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Posted: January 21, 2012 9:19 p.m.

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Chairman candidate Ellis gives platform

While county Chairman Kathy Morgan said Friday she won't announce her future plans until February, Republican contender Keith Ellis spent the day elaborating on his history and platform.

"My commitment to this county is as strong as it has always been," Morgan said in an email.

Ellis held a meet and greet Friday morning at Square Perk and then stopped by The News for an in-depth interview; he is the only candidate to publicly announce a run for the county's top elected position.

Ellis, 53, is a lifelong Newton County resident and has been a school teacher for 15 years, a home builder and developer for 13 years and has been in the energy audit and weatherization business for the past two-plus years.

After being approached by a group of residents, Ellis decided to run for chairman because he believes he can restore pride in and build a consensus on the board of commissioners.

"The one thing that was overridingly mentioned to me as I visited with people is ‘Get a consensus out of the commissioners.' Not in a back door, good ole boys type of way, but make sure they know what we're really looking at for the next meeting. And that they have the paperwork, they can review it and they don't have to debate it the night of the meeting," said Ellis, who wants to promote harmony.

He wants to make sure all commissioners are included in discussions and specifically mentioned District 2, which he knows is sometimes considered an extension of Rockdale County.

When asked why he could be a consensus builder, Ellis said he believes he's honest and is willing to listen to people and treat them fairly.

"If they don't get the assumption that you're treating one district a little better than the other district, I think that trust gets to be easier," said Ellis, who wants to be a neutral party.

He said he agrees with the recent decision to appoint a county manager, which will free the chairman up to build more relationships throughout the community and even at the state and, possibly, national level, though he admitted that was ambitious.

"We have a $40 million budget that needs to be handled by someone who has an accounting degree," said Ellis, who also said he will work to build a strong relationship with the county manager.

He believes chairman should remain full-time, because that person can build bridges between the county and cites, the school system, water authority, chamber and state legislators. Ellis worked on Gov. Nathan Deal's campaign, and Commissioner Tim Fleming currently works at the state, so Ellis believes now is the time to lobby for more money.

"I'm sure a lot of chairmen before me wished they had time to do some of those things. (We're) given an opportunity now for that time, to build that support from Atlanta, (which) is one thing, but what if we could get a good funnel from the federal level too? Its' tough around here, and the budget is going to be hard for a long time," Ellis said.

Ellis wants to help the help the chamber recruit industries and assist the schools, cities and other organizations, if and when he can.

He has been on the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority for seven years and worked with the Leadership Collaborative to create the 2050 Build Out Plan, which seeks to direct growth to urban cores while protecting much of the rural land in the county. He said he has bought into the plan and will try to push it forward.

Ellis is also a strong proponent of the future Bear Creek Reservoir, which is planned to be built in southeastern Newton County. Though the project has been at a standstill, Ellis said he hopes it can be built soon and said excess capacity could be sold to surrounding counties to make money.

"I think that's an investment the county can afford, at least to put on the burner to discuss to find that money for it," said Ellis, noting it's been the vision of many chairmen and that he doesn't have the same level of power as predecessors. "But I'm going to offer that as something we need to delve into."

Professional background
Ellis graduated from Newton County Comprehensive High School in 1976. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Georgia in agriculture and later a master's degree in education from Georgia as well.

He taught in the Newton County School System as a vocational agriculture teacher for 15 years, including 14 years at Cousins Middle School.

Around 1995, he formed Ellis Homes and worked as a builder and developer through most of the county's housing boom. He built mainly custom homes, completing around seven or eight each year until mid-2008. He estimates he built around 100 homes, including a few in Lochwolde, one of Newton County's most upscale communities, and Pastime Lakes, a community in Newborn.

Though the housing market collapse hurt his business, he did not go bankrupt and maintained at least some credit availability, because he was fairly conservative and only had a few speculative buildings at the time.

He was forced to switch fields again and joined Action in Athens, a company that does energy audits. An energy audit is where a trained professional studies a home or business and identifies how a building can become more energy efficient, whether through improved weatherization or replacing appliances, lighting and heating and air conditioning systems.

Less than three months ago he opened his own energy audit business in Newton County, Energy Miser Pro, so that he could work locally and spend more time with family. He does a lot of work with the city of Covington's energy audit programs, which are funded by grants.

If Ellis is elected chairman, he said would resign from the company.

Ellis is a member of the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce and has served as a youth sports coach for Newton County Recreation Commission, the Covington Y and Covington Christian Church.

He has been married to his wife, Sherrie, for 27 years, and the couple has three children, Will, Courtney and Charity. He lives in District 1 off Elks Club Road.

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