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Looking back at an eventful year
Top stories include economy, elections
3 Year in Review pic1
The local school district opened the doors to its fourth elementary school in 2010, Riverview. - photo by File photo

At the start of a new decade, Dawson County residents saw many transitions and beginnings in the areas of government, education and business.


Law enforcement and judicial system officials stayed busy as well.


County government welcomed the start of construction of a new courthouse and government center on Shoal Creek Road.


Other projects paid for by the 1-cent sales tax included a new building in the Liberty community. It houses a fire station, sheriff’s precinct and tax commissioner’s annex and tag office.


A new commissioner was sworn in, as was a new clerk of court.


The school district celebrated the opening of a new facility aimed at serving the county’s south end.


New businesses continued to break ground in a still-flourishing community, and the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce moved into a bigger home along Ga. 400.


A foreclosed golf club just north of Dawsonville was bought by a local businessman intent on reviving the resort-like property.


Unfortunately, financial troubles continued in 2010.


In a painful reminder of the uncertain economy, the assets of two local banks were seized in 2010 by the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance.


In April, Southern Catholic College closed its doors. It later announced plans to sell the campus.


Prior to the announcement, officials experienced further financial woes after leasing the property to a college prep academy.


The academy’s director eventually pleaded guilty to writing thousands of dollars in bad checks to his employees and local businesses.


In an unrelated matter, several government employees were charged with taking nearly $225,000 from the clerk of courts office.


The following is a year-end wrap-up of newsworthy events compiled in no particular order by staff writers Michele Hester and Frank Reddy.


Clerk of courts charged in case


In February, then Dawson County Clerk of Courts Becky McCord was arrested for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars from office accounts set up for passport fees. She was also later charged with tax evasion.


McCord resigned the elected post she had held since 1993 after county officials petitioned to have her removed from office.


The investigation into McCord followed the arrest of her chief deputy, Donna Sheriff, and a contract worker, Justin Disharoon, who admitted taking nearly $82,000 from the clerk’s office.


Sheriff and Disharoon pleaded guilty to theft charges in June and are awaiting sentencing.


McCord’s case, which is under a federal court review, is expected to be closed in 2011, according to officials.


County government facilities expand


Dawson County government made strides in 2010 on two major construction projects funded by the county’s 1-cent sales tax.


In late January, officials broke ground on the county’s biggest undertaking, a new courthouse and government administration center.


The $15.4 million, 110,000-square-foot project, which is expected to be finished this fall, will allow all county offices to operate under one roof.


Built in 1977, the current courthouse “served the county well,” according to Court Administrator Reggie Forrester.


It will be demolished once the new facility is ready.


The county also built a new government annex on the east side of town, near Hwy. 53 and Dawson Forest Road.


The center, which opened in September, houses a sheriff’s precinct, tax collection and tag office and a fire station, which replaced an aging post in the Liberty community.


Chamber moves to 400


On the weekend of Oct. 9-10, Dawson County Chamber of Commerce staff and members celebrated the grand opening of the organization’s new location.


It kicked off with a ribbon cutting ceremony for the 2,500 square-foot building on Ga. 400.


The chamber, which had outgrown its old facility in downtown Dawsonville, moved to the new location in August.


The new chamber and Welcome Center is nearly twice the size of its former headquarters, the historic downtown jail.


School system opens new campus


Education officials opened the district’s fourth elementary school in 2010.


Parents and students attended a dedication ceremony Aug. 1 for Riverview Elementary School, which is on Dawson Forest Road West, next to the similarly named middle school.


The 80,000 square-foot facility was built to relieve overcrowding at Robinson Elementary, the district’s most populous campus.


Paid for through funds from the voter-approved 1-cent sales tax for education, Riverview cost about $9.8 million.


Southern Catholic College shuts down


Citing financial concerns, Southern Catholic College closed in April to the surprise of students, faculty, staff and the community.


The closing came just shy of the college seeing off its second graduating class. There were about 240 students enrolled, about 24 full-and part-time faculty members and two dozen support staff employed at the time.


In late 2010, officials announced the college would not reopen and the campus would be sold.


Homeowners in the Gold Creek subdivision adjacent to the campus called the closing another blow to a neighborhood once deemed the county’s premier golf community.


A year earlier, Gold Creek Golf Club closed and later fell into foreclosure.


The local businessman who bought the property in December said he’s also interested in the college campus.


New owner for golf club


Two years after Gold Creek Golf Club closed and went into foreclosure, a local businessman emerged as the new owner.


K.K. Turner bought the nearly 355-acre site, which includes a clubhouse, golf course and several home lots, in mid-December for $900,000. That was less than half its assessed value, according to county property records.


Regions Bank had owned the property since April 2009, when it foreclosed on previous owners Jeff and Bob Tablak, who had bought the golf resort six years earlier.


The brothers later sold the resort’s villas and conference center to Southern Catholic College, which closed last year due to financial troubles.


Turner has said he is also interested in the college site, which is on the market.


While Turner has said he wants to restore the course and clubhouse to its previous resort-like conditions, he has not indicated a timeline for the project, which could cost millions of dollars.


Members of the Gold Creek Homeowners Association said they are eager to meet with Turner to see how they can help.


“We’re real excited that someone with a local interest that has local ties has purchased the property,” said Jeff Cotton, association president.

North Georgia College Prep


During late summer, activities temporarily resumed on the former campus of Southern Catholic College, when owners leased it to a startup college prep sports program.


Darren Wesley, 39, agreed to lease the campus on a month-to-month basis. He recruited young football players in need of academic tutoring to achieve their athletic dreams.


Problems arose, however, when employees of the academy reported they were not being paid.


In addition, local businesses advised the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office that Wesley had been writing bad checks.


Wesley was arrested in Ohio while on a trip with the academy’s football team.


He was extradited to Dawson County, where he later pleaded guilty to six counts of felony theft by deception.


Local banks seized


The assets of two separate bank branches were seized in 2010 by state and federal financial officials.


Dawsonville-based Chestatee State Bank was taken over by Bank of the Ozarks in Little Rock, Ark., through an agreement with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.


In March, the assets of Appalachian Community Bank of Ellijay, which had two branches in Dawson County, were acquired by Communty & Southern Bank of Carrollton.


According to an FDIC official, the loan holdings through both banks were scheduled to continue at their regular payment schedule. The official also said all deposits were safe and secure.


Businesses break ground


From much awaited restaurants to national convenience store chains and what is being billed as a world-class sports car park, several businesses broke ground in 2010.


Krystal and Varsity Jr. are expected to open in early 2011, expanding local fast-food options.

RaceTrac Gas began grading a site near the corner of Ga. 400 and Whitmire Road for a 12-pump station and retail store.


Atlanta Motorsports Park is also scheduled to be completed by mid-year, though construction has been delayed some by the weather.


The car park on Duck Thurmond Road is also battling a lawsuit by nearby property owners who say construction is harming their way of life and horse training business.


Legal motions, which could halt construction, are pending in Dawson County Superior Court.


Despite the influx of business, officials cautioned the county is not “out of the woods just yet.” They cite an unemployment rate near 11 percent.


“As long as you’ve got that many people unemployed, you have really got to continue to try to look for more businesses that bring jobs for more people,” said Charlie Auvermann, executive director of the Development Authority of Dawson County.


A big election year


Dawson County may have held more elections in 2010 than in any year in recent memory.


Voters said it seemed as if they were at the polls about once a month for primary, runoff, general or special elections.


Possibly the most noted special election in 2010 was that to replace Clerk of Courts Becky McCord, who resigned amid a legal battle over missing funds.


A field of 10 candidates was whittled to a runoff between Justin Power, a real estate professional, and retired banker Gaye Cantrell.


Power, then 28, carried the runoff with about 55 percent of the countywide vote. He was sworn in to office in August.


Since then, he has made several changes to improve services and operations in the office.


Checks require dual signatures, employees are being cross trained and in the coming months, Power hopes to put in a new Web-based records management system that would allow residents to view real estate, civil and criminal records online.


“The biggest challenge has been getting my arms around every facet of this office, because there are so many different things — civil, criminal, real estate, passports, trade names, there’s just so much,” he said.


In other election news, political newcomer Jimmy Hamby became the county’s District 3 commissioner, replacing Mike Connor who did not seek re-election.


Also, Steve Gooch of Dahlonega faced no opposition for the District 51 state Senate post held by Chip Pearson of Dawsonville. Pearson did not run again.