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Posted: January 10, 2013 9:41 a.m.

Disagreement over county's JDA reps

The Newton County Board of Commissioners will hold its first meeting of the 2013 year tonight at 7 p.m., but there's already a potentially controversial political decision brewing.

The board is scheduled to vote on a slew of appointments, including the annual reappointment of the county attorney, clerk and manager; however, it's Newton County's two appointments to the four-county Joint Development Authority - the group that oversees Stanton Springs Industrial Park - that are causing disagreement behind the scenes for at least some officials.

Each of the four counties, Newton, Walton, Morgan and Jasper, gets two appointees apiece to the Joint Development Authority, the group that helped recruit medical manufacturing giant Baxter International.

Former county commissioner Mort Ewing, who retired this past December, was the county's elected official, while former state representative Denny Dobbs is the citizen appointee for Newton County.

Because Ewing retired, he has to come off the authority. According to multiple officials, Chairman Keith Ellis is expected to be appointed as the elected representative to fill that vacancy.

However, officials also say that Ewing is set to be chosen as the citizen appointee, which would knock Dobbs off the authority. Dobbs has served since the Joint Development Authority's inception and is now the authority's treasurer, while Ewing has also served on the authority for more than a decade.

According to County Attorney Tommy Craig, who is also the attorney for the Joint Development Authority, any commissioner can make a motion to appoint a person to the authority; the motion would then be voted on by the full board of commissioners.

There is talk that the appointment of Ewing, should it happen, is a political issue, given that Ewing is a staunch Republican and Dobbs a longstanding Democrat. Other officials have said that out of the two long-serving candidates Ewing is the better one to remain on the board.

District 1 County Commissioner John Douglas, who represents the district that contains Newton's portion of Stanton Springs, did not say who would be appointed but said whatever the board does will be for the good of the county and said there will be continuity regarding the authority's representation.

County Chairman Keith Ellis said Thursday morning that any decision will be up to the majority of the board of commissioners, but he noted that turnover is not unusual when new officials are elected to office as they're naturally going to want a certain comfort level with the people they appoint to serve on boards and authorities.

He said the other counties that participate in the Joint Development Authority have also experienced significant turnover on their commission boards, so the JDA could look quite different moving forward.

While there's been some lobbying behind the scenes for different candidates, Ellis said he wants to bring unity to the board and hopes tonight will reflect that goal.

Dobbs said Wednesday he would be happy to serve another term but said he is not actively lobbying for the position.

There will also be several other appointments, including appointments to the animal control board, board of health, library board, Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, planning commission, senior services board, tax assessor's board, View Point Health board, Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority and the zoning board of appeals.

In addition, Ellis said he will let local student Miranda Fletcher, daughter of executive assistant Hosanna Fletcher, lead the pledge of allegiance, after she led Ellis on a great tour of the courthouse.

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