Law enforcement agents arrest two on drug charges

Dekalb County law enforcement agents recently arrested two people on drug charges following a recent marijuana eradication operation and routhine traffic stop.

On Aug. 30, during a marijuana eradication effort, helicopters spotted some marijuana plants growing on County Road 687 in Henagar. DeKalb County Drug and Major Crimes Unit arrived at the residence and found $22,000 worth of marijuana plants growing on the property. As a result Tyler Cole Davis, 27, of Henagar was arrested and charged with Unlawful Possession of Marijuana 1st and Unlawful Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, according to a press release from Dekalb County Sheriff Jimmy Harris.

On an unrelated note: on August 27th, Alabama State Trooper Oliver did a routine stop on a vehicle driven by Diana Cortez, 27 of Albertville and was found to have felony warrants from Marshall County. As Cortez was arrested she was found to have more than three ounces of Methamphetamine on her person, at which time the DeKalb County Drug and Major Crimes Unit was contacted, as stated in the press release.

Cortez was transported to the DeKalb County Detention Center and was charged with Trafficking in any Illegal Drug, Unlawful Possession of Controlled Substance, and Unlawful Possession of Drug Paraphernalia and was later charged with Chemical endangerment of exposing a child after she was found to be pregnant, the press release said.

Task force unveils options to cover uninsured in Georgia

A widely anticipated plan to reduce the number of Georgians without health coverage, unveiled Wednesday, takes a unique, conservative approach to Medicaid expansion.

The plan, created by a health care task force, contains three proposals with differing eligibility standards and designs. The group’s leaders said Wednesday that they hope the options will serve as a kick start for discussion this fall and into next year’s General Assembly session.

Included in the blueprint is an array of features that may please many Republican legislators, who are clearly the target of the task force effort.

Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act has been adopted by 31 states, the latest being Louisiana. Most of these follow a standard approach to expansion as specified under the ACA. Variant approaches require specific federal approval.

So far, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and leaders in the GOP-dominated General Assembly have opposed expansion, citing the costs to the state.

But some momentum toward expansion recently has surfaced, with state Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, being the point person for a re-examination of the move.

The task force, created by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, did not release an enrollment estimate, a price tag or projected savings for its three proposed options. Those figures will come later in the year, the group’s leaders said.

Different levels of change

The first option presented would cover the fewest people.

It would provide new coverage through the state Medicaid program to childless adults who earn less than the threshold of 100 percent of the federal poverty level.

Currently, people above that poverty limit ($11,880 for an individual) qualify for tax credits in the ACA’s insurance exchange, so the first option would ease the “coverage gap’’ of people unable to get that financial help.

But the limit of 100 percent of the federal poverty level is lower than what the ACA calls for: covering people in Medicaid at up to 138 percent of the federal poverty limit, which is $16,394 for an individual.

The narrower span, though, would still cover up to 565,000 people – a much higher estimate than previous Georgia projections, Brian Robinson, spokesman for the task force, told GHN in June.

Medicaid or private coverage?

Options Two and Three would increase eligibility to adults earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level. The second option would enroll all beneficiaries up to that income level in Medicaid, while the third choice would place those who earn above the 100 percent threshold in a private insurance plan (paid for by Medicaid.)

There are additional features that aim to increase consumer responsibility, such as payment of premiums and co-pays, and includes one that relates to food stamp benefits.

“The ‘Georgia Way’ should present the most conservative, most sustainable pathway under U.S. law to close the coverage gap and to save or improve our health care provider network,” the task force blueprint says.

Each option would require obtaining a waiver from the federal government because they have features different from standard expansion. A handful of states have obtained waivers, including Arkansas, which moved most adults who were newly eligible for coverage through expansion into insurance exchange plans.

The task force, which included hospital industry officials, physicians and insurance company officials, clearly is aiming at igniting debate in the General Assembly.

Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement Wednesday that “any of these plans would serve as a game-ready playbook for lawmakers seeking a fiscally responsible and sustainable path to cover Georgia’s uninsured, revitalize a rural health care network in crisis and undergird our safety net hospitals. That’s important not just to the health of our families but also to the health of our economy, because no good jobs are going to come to a region that lacks access to quality health care.”

Five rural Georgia hospitals have closed since the beginning of 2013. The report also cites the state’s high uninsured rate of 16 percent. The more people who lack coverage, the more medical bills that go unpaid.

“All Georgians and Georgia businesses are affected by this uninsured burden through higher health insurance premiums and the corresponding cost shift on employer-sponsored health insurance,’’ said Earl Rogers, president of the Georgia Hospital Association, which participated in the task force.

Bill Custer, a health insurance expert at Georgia State University, said all three options would help reduce the uninsured rate and bolster rural health care in the state.

“Expansion would have a positive impact on private insurance coverage in the state, along with bringing in federal money to rural areas,’’ Custer added.

And adopting expansion “would probably lead to 40,000 to 60,000 new jobs in Georgia,” he said.

Custer said the task force’s third option resembles the plan pursued by Indiana when expanding Medicaid.

The Indiana plan demands something from all enrollees, even those below the poverty line, Kaiser Health News reported earlier this year. The poorest Hoosiers can get coverage with vision and dental benefits, but only if they make small monthly contributions to accounts similar to health savings accounts. Individuals who fail to keep up lose the enhanced coverage and face co-payment, KHN reported.

Features of all three Georgia options include cost-sharing by patients; health savings accounts; the “skinniest’’ Medicaid benefit plan possible; and intensive behavioral health care for former inmates leaving prison.

It also would extend statewide a work requirement for Georgians to get food stamp benefits. Currently, Georgia plans to extend that requirement from three counties to 24.

Robinson, the spokesman for the task force, said Wednesday that the next phase of the group’s effort is to discuss the plan with the governor’s office and key lawmakers.

“There’s a growing acknowledgment that we have to do something,’’ Robinson said.

He noted that states that haven’t pursued expansion have suffered the mandated funding cuts under the Affordable Care Act but don’t get the federal money from enhanced Medicaid to offset those reductions.

Adopting these changes “will inject billions of our tax dollars into our economy,” improve the health of Georgians and boost access to care, Robinson said.

“We’re going to keep a close eye on every penny and emphasize personal responsibility,’’ he added “No plan that doesn’t pass Republican muster is going to get consideration.”

Slammed as too risky

State Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine), a strong opponent of the ACA, said Wednesday that the Chamber task force blueprint resembles the expansion framework adopted in Arkansas.

Adopting any of the Chamber plans, he said, “will put Georgia’s most needy at risk.’’

“This Georgia Chamber policy, if adopted, will do lasting damage to our state – not only to our taxpayers but also to the enrollees themselves by trapping them in a new welfare program,’’ Spencer said.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Deal, Jen Talaber Ryan, told the AJC that the governor “is always open to financially sustainable solutions or ideas to provide health care coverage to Georgians. However, any action in regards to this report will have to come from the General Assembly.”

Laura Harker, a policy analyst at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, said Wednesday that the task force plan “is a big step forward that could open up the opportunity to accept billions of federal dollars to give our health care system a boost.”

Harker said that in other states, consumer cost-sharing measures such as premiums and health savings accounts led to drops in coverage. “The goal should be to reduce barriers to obtaining coverage, which will in turn help hospitals see reductions in uncompensated care.”

A consumer advocacy group that has supported Medicaid expansion praised the task force effort.

“We are encouraged that business leaders and health care industry stakeholders have prioritized health care coverage as a necessary component of economic vitality,’’ said Cindy Zeldin, executive director of Georgians for a Healthy Future. “We look forward to a statewide conversation in the coming months about the best approach to ensure all Georgians have a pathway to coverage and access to care.”


Sand Rock continues hot start, sweeps volleyball tri-match with Cedar Bluff, Ashville

SAND ROCK – By her own admission, Lisa Bates’ Sand Rock volleyball team isn’t going to intimidate anybody at face value. She doesn’t have any dominating players on the court.

But what she does have is a team that has lots of chemistry, and so far throughout the young season, that has served Sand Rock quite nicely.

On Tuesday evening, the Lady Wildcats swept a pair of matches from Cedar Bluff (25-11, 25-18) and Ashville (25-15, 25-18) to improve to 9-1 on the season.

“The togetherness of this team is what makes them special. It makes up for the lack of height or power,” Bates said. “We spread it around. You never know who’s going to lead us in kills or who’s going to get the assists or digs. They all do it. It’s just a very well rounded team. They play together. They’re overachievers, and I like coaching overachievers.”

The proof in Bates’ statement is in the Lady Wildcats’ stats.

Savannah Blackwell collected 10 kills, 14 digs and eight aces for Sand Rock. August Gilliland managed 10 kills and 10 digs. Paige Norris posted 19 digs. Erin Langley and Audrey Richardson added 15 and 14 assists respectively. Haylie Pruitt had seven kills. Madelyn Chambers came away with five kills and Kynleigh Chesnut finished with three kills.

In both games against Cedar Bluff, Sand Rock jumped out to a 4-0 lead in game one and a 6-0 lead in game two and didn’t look back in either contest.

“I thought we did a good job of not letting them get anything they wanted, and taking them away from what their strengths are,” Bates said. “Cedar Bluff plays hard. They’ve got some good players. They hustle. I like their energy and intensity, but we didn’t let them get into a flow. I thought we did a good job of taking them out of their game.”

“Sand Rock is a good team, very well coached,” Cedar Bluff first-year coach Deidra Davis said. “We dug ourselves into a hole and we were never able to come back out.”

Kyla O’Neal posted 18 digs for Cedar Bluff (2-4) against Sand Rock. Matison Bedwell added nine digs. Kiana Dobbins delivered three kills.

Cedar Bluff appeared to shake off the Sand Rock loss in its next match against Ashville, but the Lady Tigers fell in three games 25-27, 25-10 and 9-15.

“They’re fighters,” Davis said. “They’re going to come back, and they proved that in a couple of games (in the Sardis tournament) last weekend. They’d get behind then fight back through. They’re not ever going to quit. They’re not ever going to give up. I never think they’re out of anything, just because I’ve seen the fight they have. They have a strong will to win. They’re going to fight to the finish.

“We were able to get things kind of rolling against Ashville. A couple of the girls stepped up and did a really good job in certain positions, but they got their momentum back and started going with it. We just weren’t able to finish.”

Colbit Whitlock led the Lady Tigers with nine kills and 14 digs. Brooklyn Willbanks added eight digs. Laura Ann Hughes and Bedwell had a pair of aces apiece.

In the tri-match nightcap between Sand Rock and Ashville, the Lady Wildcats broke open a tight first game, leading 8-6, by going on an 11-2 run to go up 19-8.

In the second game, Ashville jumped out to a 6-1 advantage before Sand Rock caught fire and went on an 18-3 run to take a 19-9 lead.

“This is a good group of girls. They don’t let something get them down and they don’t get too rattled,” Bates said. “I don’t have to say a lot to get them going. They know what they’ve got to do. When they mess up, they know why. They know what they’ve got to fix. When we got down tonight, it was just us doing stuff. It was us with hitting errors. They know what to do and how to fix it. They’re just a fun bunch. They really get after it. They’re all over the place. They just play hard, and I don’t have to beg them to play hard. They’re fun to coach.”

Sand Rock plays its first Class 2A, Area 12 match on Thursday at Collinsville. Cedar Bluff also plays its first Class 1A, Area 14 match on Thursday at Spring Garden in a tri-match with Jacksonville Christian.

Crews slip, slide down chert cliff on Callier Springs Road to perfect rescue techniques

Rome-Floyd County fire rescue personnel spent much of Tuesday slipping on loose rock and dangling by ropes from the side of a cliff off Callier Springs Road.

The specialized training exercise is one of many unusual drills they’re required to undertake annually.

The crews were on the side of the chert-rock cliffs behind the Rome Police Department Training Center simulating the rescue of a deer hunter who had fallen out of a tree stand and tumbled down the cliff.

Rome-Floyd Fire Department Battalion Chief Gene Proctor said personnel assigned to specialized rescue duties are required to have 24 hours of training above and beyond that of regular certified firefighters.

The 12-member special rescue unit is based at Station 2 near Darlington School.

The fire rescue crews had to rappel down the side of the cliff, determine the extent of injuries, package the patient and then haul him back up the cliff for additional medical care.

Sgt. Zach Kitchens said he’s never had to perform a rappel rescue on the job. It’s a complicated procedure, he said, but the training keeps them prepared.

“We have several bags and a large amount of equipment, so if somebody is isolated to the point where we actually have to rappel down, there is a lot involved,” Kitchens said. “Once everything is in place, it’s fairly smooth.”

Kitchens said the drill Tuesday was doubly tough because of the loose soil.

“It was hard to get your footing,” he said.

Proctor said the drill was designed to teach rescue personnel how to use the fewest number of people in the safest manner possible,

The next specialized training event, involving water rescue, is scheduled for Sept. 18 at the YMCA pool.

Proctor said the rescue crews have to be certified in stages before they’re allowed to try deep-water training in local rivers or the old Florida Rock quarry off Redmond Circle.


Jackson and Ellie Lawrence to perform at the Harris Arts Center on Sept. 24

The Harris Arts Center is proud to host singer, songwriter and musician, Jackson Lawrence with special guest, Ellie Lawrence, on Saturday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m.

Jackson Lawrence may be young, but he is a veteran within the music industry, having shared the stage with numerous legendary and national acts such as Luke Bryan, Willie Nelson, Ty Herndon, Steve Wariner, Randy Houser and many others. As an artist and musician, Jackson has had the privilege of performing at some of the most prestigious venues in the industry such as The Grand Ole Opry, Red Rocks Amphitheater and The Ryman Auditorium, among others.

Having lived in North Georgia most of his life, he gained inspiration from his surroundings, and from the people he has encountered over the years. His style is laid back in nature but full of soul and passion. His musical proficiency and stage presence will leave an impression not soon to be forgotten.

Jackson has been touring the U.S. in support of his new album, “Echoes.” He tracked the entire album at Red Alert Studios in Nashville, with Bobby McKee as producer.

“Almost exactly three years after I started recording my first EP, ‘Echoes,’ I have embarked on a new EP, ‘Heartaches and Love Letters.’ As always, I couldn’t imagine being in the studio without my old friend and producer Bobby McKee,” said Jackson. “While on tour last December, Bobby suggested that we should record the new music analog. I was really excited at the thought of tracking on tape, like in the old days when we had pros, not protools. Bobby contacted a studio where he had recorded in the past, and we booked our first session at Welcome to 1979.”

Jackson will release his new CD recorded at Welcome to 1979 at the Harris Arts Center concert on Sept. 24.

Sharing the stage with Jackson is his sister, Ellie Lawrence, a talented musician in her own right, who recently appeared on the nationally syndicated TV show, The Voice. After singing her first song on the show, Ellie was recognized by three of the four judges, and chose to work with Gwen Stefani – Team Gwen. Even though she didn’t win the competition, Ellie feels like a winner, “I walked on the show with 400 fans on my Facebook page, now I have almost 10,000!”

Ellie and her siblings were home-schooled and she began taking piano lessons at an early age. In 2012 she competed in Calhoun’s Got Talent at the HAC and won second place. She credits her dad for the gift of song and love of singing.

A Kickstarter campaign funded Ellie’s debut EP “If You Knew Me.” She will perform selections from her new album and also have CDs available at the concert.

Tickets for the Jackson and Ellie Lawrence Concert are $15 per person and may be purchased online at or by calling 706 629-2599.

GUEST COLUMN: Putin’s Russia began in chaos of ’91

I caught a glimpse of Vladimir Putin’s Russia in a Moscow police station 25 years ago.

The USSR was disintegrating around me. I was a University of Pennsylvania graduate student in Russian history spending a year in Moscow poring over newly declassified Soviet Communist Party archives.

As I immersed myself in documents that revealed startling details about the aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution, the revolution of 1991-92 was transforming the Soviet Union.

Although on the streets things seemed orderly, beneath the surface it was clear that the situation was precarious. The farcical putsch of August 1991, led by the KGB and some top military leaders, had failed to remove the reformer Mikhail Gorbachev from office.

Yet the attempted coup triggered an unexpected series of events culminating in the implosion of the USSR within months. The old communist state crumbled and a shaky new government, under the erratic leadership of Boris Yeltsin, took its place.

Amid this tumult, one day near Red Square I was swarmed by a group of about 10 young Roma children. (Roma are often derogatorily referred to as “gypsies.”)

They grabbed at my backpack, which contained my precious notes from months of work in the archives.

As I clenched the bag, one of the boys deftly fished my wallet from my pocket. Just as quickly, they scattered in every direction.

I immediately headed to the closest police station to report the crime. When I explained the situation to the officer in charge, he kindly invited me to his office.

After a little chat, he casually mentioned that there would be a price for police and prosecutors to pursue the culprits. Surprised, I told him “No,” that I wouldn’t pay a bribe for police service.

He accepted my refusal with a shrug, and then he served me tea and cookies.

As we snacked, the officer gave me some fatherly advice. I needed to protect myself, he said, so I should go out and buy the kind of club that the police carried.

If I saw any Roma, he recommended that I whack them with my stick.

I asked him how the police would react if they saw me walking around Moscow beating up Roma children with a baton. He thought for a moment before answering: “I think we would say, ‘Thank you.’”

Seeing my shock, he asked, with a degree of approval, whether I knew that, after all, Hitler had put the Roma in concentration camps.

This alarming conversation foreshadowed some of the darker trends that have become more prominent in recent years: corruption, extreme nationalism and a disrespect for the rule of law, all growing in the fertile soil of national disintegration.

The complete collapse of the economy gave rise to hyper-inflation rates of more than 2,000 percent within a year, wiping out savings and making pensions nearly worthless.

Sudden poverty fed public hostility toward what seemed like the chaos and injustice that capitalism’s “free markets” had wrought.

Russia’s middle class still has not fully recovered.

It is an enduring tragedy of Russia’s history that tremendous economic uncertainty appeared precisely at the same time as the first wave of post-Soviet leaders introduced democratic reforms and free markets, discrediting them in the eyes of much of the population.

Simultaneously, rampant corruption by political and economic elites raised further suspicions among ordinary people about the new democracy.

Unabashed bribe-taking by local officials demoralized the population.

Suddenly, it appeared that everything in Russia was for sale, as state-owned enterprises were looted by insiders.

Before the fall of communism, even toilet paper wasn’t available in stores.

Now, anything at all could be had, with the right amount of money and connections. Nothing happened, it seemed, without money changing hands.

In Soviet times, bribery had developed into a kind of art form. Because capture could lead to imprisonment, bureaucrats disguised their demands for payments.

Yet, as I witnessed in the semi-anarchy of post-collapse Russia, bureaucrats in a position to take bribes dispensed with any subtlety.

They preferred — and still prefer — a direct, quick, and cash-based deal.

Justice was for sale, just like everything else. My experience in the police station was one stark example of an all-too-frequent disregard for the rule of law. This lack of accountability persists today, encouraged by an authoritarian state.

Like the policeman with whom I shared tea, many people embraced a virulent Russian nationalism, scapegoating and demonizing non-Russian minorities for the tidal wave of problems that beset them.

In the officer’s suggestion that I take matters into my own hands and attack the Roma, one sees an embedded, race- or ethnicity-based suspicion of outsiders.

For that officer and many other Russians, the two best tools for obtaining justice seemed to be a bribe in one hand and a club in the other.

The roots of the popularity of Putin and the extreme Russian nationalists who surround him can be found in the chaotic months following the fall of the USSR in 1991.

Putin did not invent the social tensions, economic uncertainty and nationalist hostility that characterized Russia in those unsettled years.

He has merely fanned them, capitalizing on them with extraordinary expertise to consolidate his power.

James Heinzen is a professor of history at Rowan University and the author of “The Art of the Bribe: Corruption under Stalin, 1943-1953,” which will be released in November. Readers may send him email at


State Inmate Fatally Stabbed

ELMORE, Ala. – The Alabama Department of Corrections is investigating a fatal stabbing of an inmate that occurred at the Elmore Correctional Facility on Tuesday. The stabbing happened at approximately 4:30 p.m. during an altercation between two inmates.

Prison officials report that Davieon Cotez Williams, 24, received multiple stabbed wounds in the altercation. Responding officers transported Williams to the facility’s infirmary and was pronounced deceased by a prison doctor at 4:56 p.m.

Inmate Jonathan Gladney, 41, was detained as a suspect in the stabbing. Gladney is serving a life sentence on a 2006 manslaughter conviction in Barbour County. Williams was serving a 5-year sentence for second-degree rape in Chambers County.

The facility is on lockdown until the investigation is complete. Elmore Correctional Facility is a medium custody level prison housing 1,175 inmates.

Ensley: Watch out for poison ivy and oak

Polk County Ex-tension Office is located at 20 N. Main Street, Cedartown. Phone 770-749-2142 or email

Poison ivy (vine form) and poison oak (shrub like form) are common poisonous plants in Georgia.

Poison ivy is the cause of many cases of dermatitis (redness, rash, and blisters).

Everyone who spends time outdoors needs to know what poison ivy and oak look like. The leaves alternate on the stem and each leaf consists of three green shiny leaflets. The old saying is “leafs of three – let it be.”

All parts of the plant (stem, root, flower and fruit) are poisonous at all times of the year. The toxic chemical in the leaves is called urushiol. People are often exposed when they brush against the plant and bruise the leaves. It usually takes 12 to 48 hours for symptoms to appear. If contact with the plant is suspected, wash the affected area with cold water.

Several methods exist for controlling poison ivy and oak. Continual cutting, tillage, or mowing poison ivy will eventually get rid of it. Poison ivy can also be controlled by the application of herbicides (weed killers). Because poison ivy has an extensive root system, several applications may be necessary for effective control. Two herbicides that are effective for the control of poison ivy are glyphosate (Roundup or Kleenup) and triclopyr.

Be extremely careful in spraying around desirable plants since misapplication and wind drift could harm them as well. These herbicides are non-selective meaning they will cause damage on adjacent plants. When applying any pesticide, read and follow label directions carefully.

Things to do in Cherokee County Wednesday, Aug. 31

The Family Care Center in the Piggly Wiggly Shopping Center in Centre includes a Thrift Store open to the public Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The Family Care Center helps others by giving clothing, food and possibly hope to families in their time of need. The Center asks for your help by supporting its thrift stores. There are currently three locations, the one in Centre, another at 5511 Main St. in Hokes Bluff and another in Cedar Bluff. The Center is currently helping more than 100 families per week and thanks the community for its continued support. Director is Cindy McGinnis.

Extended Family is having workshop from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. in the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce office. For more information call 256-927-3038.

The Cherokee County School System is giving notice that records retained for five years after the end of special education services will be destroyed Oct. 1, 2016. Parents or students may call 256-927-8049 to request records.

The Party Bridge Match is played at the Fort Payne Senior Center. For more information, call 256-927-7754.

Visit the beautiful Rock Village, home of some of the best hiking and rock climbing throughout the world. Enjoy fresh air and beautiful scenery. Go to the intersection of U.S. Highway, to the intersection of County Road 36 and County Road 70, turn left and follow 411 and Highway 68 in Leesburg, turn right, turn left on Cherokee County 36 the signs.