Archive - October, 2011

Fights at Alpharetta High School and Social Media

Alpharetta High School has a positive climate and students are extremely well behaved, respectful and exhibit mature behavior and attitudes to each other and to the faculty and staff. 

These are words from a school quality review conducted at Alpharetta High School. They were quoted by principal Shannon Kersey in an email to parents yesterday. It was an attempt to put a positive spin on news of terrible and violent fights at the school this week.

Selected tweets this week from Alpharetta HS students

And I’m sure these words are very true when describing Alpharetta High. The timing of the study is ironic. Social media channels have been abuzz this week with reports of multiple fights, trips to the hospital and even disturbing pictures. One camera phone pic I observed on twitter showed blood smeared on a cinder block wall. It contained the caption “It’s not right without a fight…Alpharetta high school is now in the running for most ghetto.” Another student tweet from earlier this week read “Only the ambulance would come for a fight at Alpharetta.”

Was the violence at AHS exacerbated by the use of social media? Or did it just help spread the news? Hundreds of students walk the halls with iPhones that can blast pictures to friends and in seconds. Principal Kersey seems to acknowledge this in her letter, saying “this particular altercation has received more attention because some students photographed the location of the incident with their cell phones and shared the images through social media.” Students can communicate in stunningly rapid and effective ways. It’s a new reality that school administrators just have to deal with.

I don’t think administrators need to dwell on social media but rather focus their attention on the troublesome students who bring violence into this good school. Fights are nothing new. Those who engage in violence at school should be given swift and certain punishment that includes expulsion. None of that should change.

I hope next week brings calm to the halls of Alpharetta High School. Please keep these students in your thoughts and prayers over the weekend.

Bite – Alpharetta

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… the best pork you’re likely to find in north Fulton won’t come from a barbecue joint. You’ll find it in unlikely places like Bite.

Their red chile pork tacos are getting a lot of attention, as they should. They start by rubbing pork shoulders with chiles before smoking them. Next the pork takes a bath in a mole sauce braise. The pork is then pulled and cradled in a corn tortilla. These morsels of swine are smokey, tender and bursting with flavor. The texture contrasts with a crisp pickled jalapeno slaw and a creamy goat cheese.

Bite quietly opened several months ago behind the Webb Bridge post office in the old Field Good location. It is an intimate space with just a handful of tables and some seating overlooking an exposed kitchen. I suggest sitting here to observe the chefs in action. You’re close enough to smell the lemon and garlic as they hit the saute pan.

The decor is modern yet sophisticated and classy. I appreciate Bite’s artwork, photography on wrapped canvas. The restaurant will certainly appeal to affluent women from east Alpharetta and Johns Creek, drawing those who might frequent restaurants like Never Enough Thyme or Wildflour. Their distance from the offices on Windward and Old Milton should keep most of the cubicle dweller riffraff away (with the exception of yours truly, who was willing to brave Windward’s bevy of four way stops to get here).

These guys at Bite are serious about layering flavors and textures in entrees like tacos, sandwiches and salads. The menu makes prodigious use of cheese, many varieties are smoked in-house. Check out the pimento cheese, made daily. Or how about the cotija cheese on their “street corn” side dish as an alternative to boring Parmesan. I’m by no means a cheese snob, yet I enjoyed this cheesy grilled corn.

Bite’s steak sandwich both impressed and disappointed. The combination of caramelized onions, white cheddar and a sweet fig sauce on ciabatta bread was fantastic. The use of filet medallions was impressive on a sandwich, yet the steak wasn’t very tender. Unable to shred them as I was biting, I was left with entire medallions in my mouth. I was forced to discretely consume a pretty big hunk of cow that I’d hoped would have lasted for several bites.

However, none of the sides have disappointed. Bite’s potato salad hits your taste buds with a pungent tarragon kick. You can’t go wrong with the pickled jalapeno slaw or the aforementioned street corn.

Bite is a winner and will likely add themselves to many a favorite restaurant list. Try them before they completely overwhelm this small space. I’m surprised they don’t have lines out the door.
Bite on Urbanspoon

Paul Oakes incident leads to internal investigation

On Friday I wrote about the Wills Park incident involving a Roswell mother who accused Paul Oakes of harming her child on a swing. More details have come up in the case. Among them are:

  • The mother of the victim has filed a complaint with respect to the police officers’ handling of the investigation. The complaint has resulted in an internal affairs investigation, according to James Drinkard, assistant city administrator.
  • No incident report was was filed by police officers on the date of the actual incident, Saturday October 15th. It took a visit to the Alpharetta police station by the victim’s mother before an incident report would be filed.
  • The police officers initially classified this incident at a “miscellaneous report”. The result of this classification means that the incident is NOT included on crime maps and statistics published by the city, according to Drinkard. However, a check on the city’s website tonight shows that the incident now appears, labeled as an assault/simple battery.
  • The man accused, Paul Oakes, is on the board of the Alpharetta Public Safety Foundation. His wife is Cheryl Oakes, a city council member. Ms. Oakes is the council liaison to the public safety department.

The AJC is now reporting on this issue in an article that goes to print in tomorrow’s edition. In the article, the responding officers are described as giggling after talking with Oakes after the incident. The article also says that Cheryl Oakes hung up on reporters when they called.

On a personal note… I was the first to publish Paul Oakes’ name in connection to this incident, something WSB-TV didn’t do in their initial reporting. Things got ugly in the comments of my blog, on twitter and in email. I was personally insulted, accused of being irresponsible and sleazy. Another accused me of orchestrating a smear campaign. I trust that those same individuals are directing similar language to the AJC’s editors today. Nevertheless, it was for this reason that I closed comments last Friday. I also feared that both campaigns might try to politicize the topic on my blog.

The “Wacky World” Incident – Paul Oakes

On Tuesday WSB-TV broke a story involving an incident at the Wacky World portion of Wills Park. A woman alleges that a man yelled at her four year old child, yanked at a swing and caused her to fall to the ground.

What the WSB article didn’t mention was the name of the alleged assailant, Paul Oakes. Oakes is the husband of Alpharetta City Councilwoman Cheryl Oakes. Both Cheryl and Paul Oakes sit on the board of the Alpharetta Public Safety Foundation, according to that charity’s website.

According to George Gordon with the Alpharetta Public Service Department, the victim’s mother chose not to press charges at the time the police report was filed. However, she has since been in contact with Alpharetta police and expressed a desire to have charges brought. No charges have been filed at this time and police refuse to answer additional questions, citing an ongoing investigation.

This blogger has obtained copies of the incident report from the Alpharetta Police Department via an open records request. A PDF of the full report can be downloaded from this link.

The narrative of that report is reprinted here in its entirety…

 

I met a Christole Abdelmaseh at the Alpharetta Police Department. Abdelmaseh wanted to discuss an incident that she said occurred at the Wacky World section of Wills Park, 11925 Wills RD in the City of Alpharetta on 10/15/2011. Abdelmaseh explained that at approximately 1800 hrs 10/15/2011 she was at the park with her three children, ages 10 mos, 3 yrs and 4 yrs respectively. Christole explained that she turned away from her daughter briefly and was helping her son up some steps when she heard the loud voice of a man yelling. Abdelmaseh turned to see that her 4 year old daughter was on a swing, laying on her belly across the seat portion of the swing. Abdelmaseh said that she then saw the man who was yelling lift the swing up in the air with her daughter still in it. Abdelmaseh said her daughter was trying to hold onto the chains of the swing when the man yanked the swing downward causing the child to fall onto the ground, striking her back and head. Abdelmaseh said she ran to her child and confronted the man. Abdelmaseh said the man told her that his granddaughter wanted the swing, and that Abdelmaseh’s daughter wouldn’t get off the swing. Abdelmaseh said that she told the man that he should have found the child’s parent before he dumped her off the swing.

Abdelmaseh said that she summoned police to respond to the park and was met by two Alpharetta Police officers. Abdelmaseh said that the two officers spoke to the man, but did not find any independent witnesses to what occurred. Abdelmaseh said that she then gathered her children to leave the park because she and her daughter were very upset. Abdelmaseh said that is when a man approached her and said “You know who that is, right?” Abdelmaseh responded that she did not. The man told Abdelmaseh that the man was “Paul Oakes, Cheryl Oakes’ husband”, and then told her “look him up.” Abdelmaseh said that when she got home she used Google and found images of “Paul Oakes”. Abdelmaseh claimed that the images were of the same man that pushed her daughter out of the swing at the park.

Abdelmaseh said that her daughter has no visible injuries to document, but was very frightened by the man yelling at her at the park. Abdelmaseh said that her daughter has been very upset and woke up crying multiple times throughout the night. Abdelmaseh asked for documentation of this incident. She provided a written statement, which was placed in the records inbox. Abdelmaseh did not bring her daughter with her to the police station so I was not able to observe or speak to her. I did not speak to Paul Oakes. I gave Abdelmaseh a business card with my contact information on it as well as the incident number 1110-0323.

Midway Meal House – South Forsyth

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

“I really want to like this place.” It’s an over-used cliche, usually written with some guilt, that often accompanies negative restaurant reviews. I’m certainly not above invoking this phrase, especially when it comes to Midway Meal House. Why? Because I do indeed want to like this place.

Who wouldn’t want to like a charming old farmhouse with a large wrap-around veranda? Who wouldn’t appreciate the history of this building? And who wouldn’t respect the Meal House’s story of rising from the ashes, literally.

I do indeed want to like Midway Meal House. I like the nostalgia I feel here, something that’s hard to find in the suburbs anymore. And I like the friendly atmosphere and hospitality. Unfortunately I cannot say much positive about their food and what they’ve done to southern cuisine.

I love the meat and two veggie format of many southern restaurants. At Midway Meal House $7.25 will let you choose from several meats and a long list of veggies plus some bread. Described by the menu as “delicious homemade vegetables,” these sides are anything but. Many taste straight from a can. Liberal applications of salt and pepper are usually necessary to make their beans, corn or instant potatoes suitable to my palate.

It is a shame that a country cooking restaurant with such history doesn’t make better use of locally grown produce.

Several years ago Midway Meal House burned. It was a fierce fire that nearly reduced the place to the foundation. They wasted little time and rebuilt. Unfortunately the owners passed up a golden opportunity to transform the restaurant into something great. The rebuild was nearly identical, leaving behind the same drab interior and a menu to match. With a new look and fresh new approach to the menu, the Meal House could have really shined. Today, not many years later, the building is starting to look rundown and dirty. It’s really a shame.

I’d imagine breakfast at Midway Meal House is a better experience, but I’ve never been in the AM. And their dessert menu, featuring truly homemade cakes and pies, deserves some recognition. But serving canned veggies is inexcusable. With south Forsyth’s restaurant scene finally coming of age, the Meal House is being left in the dust.

I welcome your comments and criticisms. But remember… I really want to like this place!

Midway Meal House on Urbanspoon

Westside Parkway – It’s Complicated

“We should also complete Westside Parkway.”
“I will join the efforts to complete the opening of Westside Parkway.”
“(We should) complete Westside Parkway to improve overall traffic flow within our City.”

These are all quotes I pulled off webpages of candidates for Alpharetta city office. You’ve got to hand it to these guys. They hear and understand the frustration of commuters with this incomplete road.

And with the news of Prospect Park’s sale this year to North American Properties, our anticipation was again renewed. Perhaps our frustration would come to an end after all. I joined the bandwagon of those encouraging Mark Toro and NAP to open the road immediately.

Yet even with the apparent sale of Prospect Park, opening Westside Parkway isn’t quite as easy as you might think. This is complicated, and I’ll attempt to explain why. I also think now is the time for Alpharetta’s politicians to act on this road once and for all.

Prospect Park’s Sale is Incomplete

The property that most identify as Prospect Park (now called Avalon) was a collection of parcels assembled by developer Stan Thomas. He financed the project largely with a loan from Wachovia (now Wells Fargo). Other parcels were financed elsewhere or may not have been used as collateral at all.

It appears that the parcels purchased this year by North American Properties were those financed through Wachovia only. The pins on the following map show parcels still identified by Fulton County as being owned by Fourth Quarter Properties, an entity linked to Stan Thomas.

View Prospect Park in a larger map

As seen on the map, North American Properties does not own land at the southwest and northeast corners of the original Prospect Park development. This includes the so-called Ellman Tract of land along Webb Bridge Road, across the street from St James church.

Were NAP to deed its portion of Westside Parkway to the city, the road would still be incomplete as the land under the road at Old Milton and Webb Bridge may still be controlled by Thomas.

Catch-22

Alpharetta is in a bit of a predicament. The zoning of the land requires the road be completed and deeded over before the project can continue. Were Thomas to build on his land, he would have to abide by those original conditions. The city, eventually, should receive a free road at the end of this.

However, if Thomas (or a future owner) wanted to be difficult, he could sit on the land and demand the city purchase the property. He’d be, essentially, holding Westside Parkway hostage in exchange for selling property he’d originally planned to gift the city. It isn’t clear if this a motive, and land negotiations with the city are handled in private.

So what should Alpharetta do? Wait for development to eventually proceed on all parcels, which could leave the road unfinished indefinitely? Purchase the land in a privately negotiated deal? Or perhaps employ…

Eminent Domain

As one candidate for city council told me last week, the public looks poorly on the use of eminent domain. Yet Alpharetta was more than ready to use it to acquire homes for the downtown Alpharetta plan (here and here) as part of the Haynes Bridge Road relocation. The press did not report on this story at all.

Should Alpharetta use eminent domain to acquire the rest of the Westside Parkway land? Absolutely! It is odd that the city would proceed with condemnation to move (and make more narrow) Haynes Bridge Road but isn’t proceeding with it to open a new and vitally important road like Westside Parkway. Additionally, condemning land in Prospect Park isn’t going to displace families like the threatened Brooke Street condemnation did.

Alpharetta took a gamble when they decided to deal with a developer who was biting off more than he could chew. There are a lot of lessons to learn here, some of which are costly. Alpharetta needs to face the reality that this road isn’t going to be free. Candidates who make a campaign issue of Westside Parkway should be asked if eminent domain is appropriate. Those who disagree should explain how Westside can be opened quicker.

 

Alpharetta Restaurant News – October 2011

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

This summer saw new restaurants opening at a brisk pace. This fall… not so much. Nevertheless there are a few new restaurants and other news worthy of mentioning. If you know of any that I’ve missed, please leave me a comment!

El Molcajete Mexican Restaurant – Milton

This small chain of Mexican restaurants is set to open in Zola Bistro’s old space on Highway 9. They have four other locations; two in Gwinnett County and two in the upstate of South Carolina. According to their website, the restaurant gets their name from the Spanish word for “mortar and pestle.” Some of their featured entrees are served in bowls made from volcanic rock. Beyond that, I don’t know much about them. Extra credit if you can pronounce “Molcajate.”

Cumming Fish Market – Closed

Restaurants in Cumming proper are usually outside of my coverage area. I mention this closing because of who operated this restaurant. The Cumming Fish Market was in the same family as Sage, Northpoint Diner and Spice. Even experienced restaurateurs couldn’t overcome the hurdle of this poor location. They were in a beautiful building that was practically invisible. It kind of reminds me of…

Fire Fly – Windward

I’ve learned a little more about this restaurant from someone close to the managers. Like the Fish Market, there are experienced restaurateurs behind this endeavor, making a go in a terrible location. Lee Chadwick from The Metropolitan Club is an investor. She was also behind The Taco Stand which opened this year in another shaky location. Fire Fly’s executive chef will be Scott Sutton.

I sincerely hope they are successful in this location. It’s an awesome space that deserves to have a thriving restaurant.

La Casa Italian Grill

They have finally opened! Look for them in the old Cafe Efendi location on Old Roswell Street in downtown Alpharetta.

Berry Bean Cafe – Main Street

I normally wouldn’t mention a new smoothie joint in this column, but this place also does coffee. Their Facebook page has pics of some beautiful coffee creations and pastries. I desperately want an independent coffee shop to be successful in this area. I don’t know if Berry Bean fits that category, but I wish them luck. They are on North Main in the Taco Mac shopping center.

Coming Soon

We’re scratching more names off this list…

Dulce Chocolat – Still no word on when this chocolate shop on Old Milton will open.

Twisted Taco Express – Their buildout continues. Look for them next to Wildflour on Windward.

Saigon Cafe – I mentioned these guys almost a year ago. Thought they had gone the way of the city that also bears their name. Seems that life is again in this restaurant. Look for them next to Smashburger on Windward.

 

Prospect Park is now “Avalon”

Yesterday on twitter, without a lot of fanfare, North American Properties front man Mark Toro spilled the beans on Prospect Park’s new name. “Avalon” is what they came up with. This comes after an appeal on social media channels for name suggestions. What do you think of the name? As far as I’m concerned, anything other than Prospect Park is fine with me.

I had to google it, but the name Avalon is derived from King Arthur lore. It was the place where Arthur’s sword, the Excalibur, was forged. In more modern times Avalon has inspired the names of movies, books, rock and roll bands, and…

The Toyota Avalon

Blame it on marketing, but this is the first thing to pop into my mind when I hear the name “Avalon.” We’re a family of Toyota drivers in my house. I drive a 2003 Camry XLE which, back in the day, was about as close to an Avalon as your could get. The Avalon was Toyota’s nicer-than-a-Camry but not-as-nice-as-a-Lexus sedan. Today, by Alpharetta standards, my car is a piece of junk. The fact that it is missing a hubcap doesn’t help. I don’t know if the Toyota Avalon holds the same appeal today as it did years ago. But I still associate the name to the vehicle. How long will it take me to associate “Avalon” to a five-star hospitality property? Pretty soon I’d imagine.

av-uh-lon versus av-uh-nyoo

After I finished thinking about automobiles, this is what next jumped into my head. Not far up GA-400 is the Avenue Forsyth. While it is no where near what Prospect Park Avalon will be in scale and amenities, there are still some similarities. Both are large shopping centers along GA-400. And both will share two syllables of their three syllable names. Will the name “Avalon” roll off the tongue as “Avenue”, and vice verse?

Avalon is a curious choice for a name, one I personally would not have considered. But in the end, I really didn’t have much of an opinion on the new name of Prospect Park. Like most in this area, the opening of Westside Parkway and a reduction in the scale of the project are foremost on my mind.

What do you think of changing Prospect Park to Avalon?

Thoughts on Alpharetta’s first candidate debate

Yesterday afternoon the Kimball Bridge Coalition hosted the first Alpharetta candidate forum. It was a terrific event that was organized well. Big kudos are due to Kyle Caswell for moderating. He did so without bias, stayed on schedule and kept things clean.

A few things stood out in my mind. First, I thought the candidates for council positions, as a group, were far more energetic and optimistic than their mayoral counterparts. DeRito, Paine and Belle Isle all seemed subdued in their speaking. Show some excitement, guys!

DeRito was the only candidate for mayor to go on the offensive. He took Belle Isle to task on traffic light technology. It is unfortunate he did so in his closing comment which occurred after Belle Isle’s. DeRito also attacked Paine on the city’s lack of response to ticketgate. In my opinion, none of the candidates for mayor have room to be attacking each other on this issue.

Ticketgate

And speaking of tickets… this issue came up as expected. I continue to be disappointed in the city’s response. The standard answer to this issue is 1) become more transparent and 2) blame the AJC. I’ve yet to hear anyone in city government offer anything close to an apology. Disappointing.

T-SPLOST

Nearly every candidate came out against the T-SPLOST in its current form. What Alpharetta needs is a mayor who will join the conversation. Johns Creek, Roswell and Sandy Springs are all neck deep into the regional transportation discussion. Alpharetta, at the center of north Fulton, is absent. Perhaps this is due to having a lame duck mayor?

Urbanization

I’m encouraged to see this offered as a topic and give credit to Caswell for asking the candidates. I hope this continues to be an issue in the campaign. Some candidates danced around the issue a bit. The voters would be better served with clear answers here. How about asking candidates how they would have voted on Peridot?

Post 1 Race

Donald Michell wasn’t going to let the issue of his Democratic voting record hang out there. He addressed it right away, claiming he was crossing over to influence the Democratic vote. I continue to have doubts about this answer. One Democratic primary he voted in was 2002. Roy Barnes and Max Cleland both ran unopposed at the top of the Democratic primary ballot in 2002. Which race was he attempting to influence? Keep in mind that while voting for Democrats he was missing the contested GOP primaries that nominated Sonny Perdue and Saxby Chambliss. Most true Republicans would not miss the chance to participate in these two primaries. Nevertheless, Alpharetta voters will have to decide if this is an important issue to them. It may not be.

On the other hand, I don’t believe Ron Carter had a good debate. He attempted to own the Westside/GA-9 highway reroute idea. In my opinion the strategy backfired on him as this idea has been around for some time. With Mitchell so involved with downtown issues, I think Carter would do better to find another issue in which to distinguish himself.

Candidates from Milton?

I saw Lance Large at the debate. I find it odd that he would take time away from meeting voters in his own city to watch Alpharetta’s proceedings.

So there you have it. Overall it was a quiet start to the campaign debate season. There are two more debates planned in the coming weeks. To those of you who were there… let me know what you thought!

Heavenly Gourmet Popcorn – Alpharetta

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

Popcorn? Gourmet popcorn? It may be America’s favorite snack food, but it usually isn’t mine. When the entire movie theater is binging on buckets, a handful of popcorn will satisfy me most of the time. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate buttery/salty combinations. There’s just something about the texture of popcorn that keeps me from consuming it in significant quantity.

So I was a bit hesitant to try Alpharetta’s new popcorn joint. Yet with over 100 varieties available at Heavenly Gourmet Popcorn, I figured there must be something that would appeal to me.

And if my multiplication was correct, I counted about 120 varieties at Heavenly. A seemingly endless wall contains shelves of plastic storage bins. They appear a bit odd at first. These bins look like something you might buy at Target to store knickknacks in your basement. The rest of the store has an upscale feel but the bins do not.

Nevertheless, the bins and shelves divide 120 flavors into three categories; cheese, candied and gourmet. You’ll want to take advantage of the free samples as it is difficult to decide on a flavor. On my first trip I went straight to the gourmet choices. Most flavors here contain chocolate, caramel or other rich combinations.

I settled on their “heavenly crunch” flavor which is a best seller. They start with caramel popcorn, then cover with milk chocolate followed by a white chocolate drizzle. It’s way over-the-top and sinfully delicious. About half way into the very smallest size (called “snack size”) I cried uncle. This is a spoiled dinner waiting to happen.

Dill pickle popcorn enjoyed in my cubicle

On my second visit I went for the lighter cheese varieties. A sample of their cajun flavor didn’t appeal to me. With some reluctance I bought a bag of dill pickle popcorn. Again, this is a best seller but I had doubts. The first few kernels left strong dill flavors on the back of my tongue. But before long I was addicted! I snacked on it for the rest of the afternoon in my cubicle, wishing I had purchased a bigger size.

The folks at Heavenly make all 120 varieties in-house. A good portion of their business is sure to be corporate and mail order clients. They also might not be a bad choice for a party or event. On one visit I overheard someone asking about popcorn for a wedding reception.

Small quantities are certainly available but tend to be on the expensive side. Their snack size bag (about the size of a soft ball) will set you back five bucks for a gourmet variety. It’s an expensive snack no doubt. I’d probably only order this again if I were having a serious craving. The dill pickle popcorn is something I could see buying on a regular basis, and certainly in a larger size.

So pick up a bag of Heavenly’s popcorn and bring it back to the office. Even if they don’t enjoy it, you’re co-workers will still thank you. At least you won’t burn a bag in the break room microwave.

Heavenly Gourmet Popcorn is located at 875 N Main Street, Suite 305, right next to Taco Mac.

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