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Posted: June 18, 2013 9:46 p.m.

Main Street board OKs ending pact

The planned reorganization of the Main Street Covington program took another step forward Tuesday, bringing Covington city officials’ plan to move the program under the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce close to fruition.

The Main Street Board of Directors voted at Tuesday’s called meeting to allow its current agreement with the city and county to be terminated early at the request of Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston, who has been driving reorganization.

While Main Street board members last week expressed frustration with the process, including being left out of the loop and unsure of their future and roles moving forward, the majority of the board agreed to let city officials move ahead with their plans.

The agreement between the city, county and Main Street board governs how the program operates and is structured; however, the city requested early termination — instead of waiting the normal 90-day notice period — for practical budgetary purposes.

The city and county jointly fund a portion of Main Street’s budget, as well as the budget of the environmental and beautification advocacy group Keep Covington/Newton Beautiful. In order to streamline budgets and operations, the city and county are planning to swap their shares in the two programs, so the city is solely responsible for Main Street and the county is solely responsible for KCNB.

The city and county’s budget years begin July 1, so an early termination will allow budgets to be finalized before that date. County officials support the swap, but the Newton County Board of Commissioners has not yet officially voted to approve the change.

Main Street board member Michael Geoffory, a local attorney, was the lone dissenting vote because he felt the current Main Street board was operating much more effectively than in the past and should remain in charge.

Under the mayor’s plan, the chamber — and, therefore, the chamber board of directors — will be  ultimately in charge of operation via a contractual agreement with the city. Geoffroy felt the business owners should not have their budgetary control taken away from them.

Ultimately, the city is the one in control as it will provide all of the funding for the Main Street program moving forward. However, under the agreement that was terminated, the Main Street board had a lot of authority and operated as an independent board.

How the Main Street board will operate moving forward will have to be determined through the reorganization process.

Chamber President Hunter Hall, who represented the chamber at the meeting, said the normal structure for its existing arms of economic development, small business and tourism was to have a subcommittee for those arms that reported to the chamber board of directors. He said the chamber would want that to be the structure with Main Street as well, but noted that the subcommittees and the individual directors of those areas are the one who prepare budgets and operations, while the board of directors is a high-level strategy group.

City Manager Leigh Anne Knight said the Georgia Department of Community Affairs has expressed no concern about moving Main Street under the chamber, and Billy Peppers, with DCA’s downtown development division, has offered to help with the reorganization.

Board member T. Pat Cavanaugh, The News’ general manager, said the Main Street board has spoken its piece and all city and chamber officials have said on the record they want the Main Street program to continue to be strong. He said the board has to have some trust that that will be the case, and he didn’t think there was any benefit to delaying the termination.

Board member Andrea Smith was concerned that terminating the agreement would leave a void in direction, but board chair Serra Phillips said Main Street’s program of work — including its events — would go on as planned, because it and the budget were approved by the state, as well as the city and county.

Knight said the city is committed to helping those events be successful.

During his speech, Hall said he did believe there are opportunities for synergy between Main Street and the chamber’s tourism and small business arms.

The next step is to form a committee to map out the future of Main Street Covington and create the service agreement, or contract, that will be signed between the chamber and city.

The committee is planned to be comprised of two Covington council members, two county commissioners, two Main Street board members and two chamber officials.

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