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Posted: October 29, 2013 9:00 p.m.

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Q and A with candidate Maurice Carter

This is the last week for early voting for council seat races in Covington and Mansfield; the election is Nov. 5 at each respective city’s town hall.

Covington east ward council candidate Maurice Carter answered six questions posed by The Covington News.

Incumbent councilman Chris Smith declined to answer the same six questions, citing what he believes to be unfair treatment from the newspaper. He previously declined to participate in a forum, saying in early October that he believed it was too close to the election and his time would be better spent going door-to-door.

Chris Smith

Smith said he would be glad to talk to voters one on one and can be reached via his cellphone at 770-560-2903 or by email at

Maurice Carter

1. Please do a brief SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of the city. Limit each area (strengths, weaknesses, etc.) to a maximum of three items and briefly explain each item. (Please see question #2, so you don’t duplicate answers.)

• Strengths:

i. Caring people with a community-minded spirit — People are our greatest asset, and we have a strong core of individuals who give generously of time, energy, talents, and money to make Covington a better place.

ii. Financial stability from a healthy tax base — With an 80/20 mix of industrial and commercial property vs. residential, Covington’s tax base has been resilient to the effects of the recession and collapse of the housing market.

iii. Rich history, cinematic streetscapes, and small-town charm that drive a robust tourism industry — Tourists spend money with local businesses, while requiring little in the way of services from local governments. Especially considering our challenged economic demographics, tourism is a way to boost retail spending and encourage entrepreneurs to take a chance on our town.

• Weaknesses:

i. Underdeveloped retail economy has us relying on a small number of large industries — Covington has done well with large industry, but we are seriously behind in commercial development. For a community our size, we have a significant gap in our retail economy. We have specifics to address, such as utility rates that disproportionately burden commercial businesses. We also have economic demographics to overcome. But, we have to sell to our strengths, while taking deliberate steps to address our weaknesses.

ii. Insufficient quality of life choices — To attract young professionals and retain our youth, we must offer diverse options for making a complete life here. That means more restaurants and shopping; green space, parks, and passive recreation; and walkable streetscapes in live/work/play settings. I will renew the Council’s focus on projects for the Highway 278, Pace Street, and Washington Street corridors. I will be proactive in pursuing those visions and plans.

iii. Pervasive poverty — Today, 25% of city residents live below the poverty level and 65% of school students county-wide are classified as economically disadvantaged. This alone does not define our community, and the figures may be shocking to some. But failing to address this core issue greatly constrains our prospects for economic expansion.

• Opportunities:

i. Leverage more public/corporate/private partnerships to develop quality of life amenities. Government can’t do it alone, but must lead in partnership with our great network of non-profits and responsible corporate citizens.

ii. Target recruitment efforts to small businesses that benefit from tourism. While large retail and restaurant chains may be discouraged by our economic demographics, we must appeal to entrepreneurs ready and willing to invest here. By continuing to develop programs that encourage tourism, we can provide an economy that supports and attracts restaurants, shops, and lodging.

iii. Use Newton College and Career Academy, local colleges, and other partnerships to drive work force development. Large employers look for communities with a skilled and ready workforce. We must support efforts at all levels to reinforce academic performance and produce well-educated workers.

• Threats:

i. Budget woes affecting Newton County and the Newton County School System — While the City of Covington has fared better — thanks to a healthy tax base — city residents are impacted by challenges facing the county and our schools. This climate also affects industry recruitment and economic development efforts within the city.

ii. Apathy toward local government and community programs — Voter data shows 70% of the registered voters in Covington’s East Ward haven’t voted in even one city election over the last 10 years. Advance voting figures suggest low turnout for this election. Perhaps more troubling is the reluctance of citizens to get involved in public service. That only two city posts county-wide are contested in this election cycle doesn’t bode well for "government of the people, by the people, for the people." Nothing against any incumbent, but we need broader involvement from more citizens.

iii. Loss of Experienced Leadership — While not necessarily related, the retirement of City Manager Steve Horton was the first in a series of departures creating openings in key leadership positions across the city. The Finance Director, Utilities Director, Transportation Director, and Main Street Program Director positions have all been vacated in the last year. While not city employees, turnover of several key positions at the Chamber of Commerce also impacts efforts to recruit and retain business for the city. Along with the knowledge these individuals possessed, we lost many of the relationships they had built across the state and beyond. It will be important that we focus on leadership development and succession planning to reestablish a sustainable management team. We must also put a concerted effort into rebuilding relationships beyond our borders if we are to continue bringing good things to Covington.

2. Please take what you see as the top opportunity and the top threat, as identified above, and describe how you would exploit that opportunity and reduce/eliminate the threat.

• Opportunity: Leverage public/corporate/private partnerships — Communities that excel have strong public/private sector partnerships. As the elected voices of the people, the Mayor and Council must create the vision and rally the community. Successful implementation requires dedicated stakeholder involvement from private citizens, non-profit organizations, colleges, and corporate citizens. Corporations and colleges have a vested interest in building diverse quality of life choices to help recruit and retain talent and attract students. Non-profits provide alternative channels for funding. The key is to create a compelling vision and engage these stakeholders in meaningful collaboration with a purpose. I will encourage more outreach to our corporate, institutional, and non-profit partners.

• Threat: Budget woes affecting Newton County and the Newton County School System — The Newton County Board of Commissioners and the Newton County School System are still suffering from a sustained drop in property values that started with the mortgage crisis of 2008. Unlike Covington, these governments depend on a tax base dominated by residential property that has declined sharply in value and doesn’t generate sufficient tax revenues to cover the cost of services required. The recent action by the Board of Commissioners to initiate a strategic planning process is encouraging. As the Commissioners examine the county’s strengths and weaknesses, this lays the groundwork for collaboration and partnership between the City of Covington, Newton County, and the school system. Where one entity’s weakness is another’s strength, we can find productive opportunities to join forces. One might argue this was happening already via the Leadership Collaborative, but real partnership requires honest reflection and fact-based assessments. That’s what’s taking place now, and I will press for more linkages between each entity’s strategic plans.

3. What do you see as the role and responsibility of a Covington city council member?

• The council is the board of directors for the business that is the City of Covington. As such, a council member should represent all residents by establishing a shared vision for the city and working with the professional staff to develop objectives, strategies, and plans to achieve that vision and promote the best interests of the city as a whole. It is not the role of a council member to become involved in the operational affairs of the City Manager, departments heads, or staff — but rather to establish and operate a management system that holds the City Manager and staff accountable for measureable results as outlined in the plan. An effective council member listens actively to all constituents, seeks out formal and informal learning opportunities, and networks to discover new ideas and best practices from cities across Georgia and beyond.

4. What specific skills, resources, knowledge, etc. do you bring to the table that will enable you to actively help the city improve as opposed to being a passive observer of change?

• My global business and high-tech experience is a plus as we recruit businesses to Covington. I’ve managed teams of up to 270 people across 16 countries and 11 time zones and annual budgets as large as $120M. As demonstrated through my campaign, I’m well-versed in social networking technologies that drive the 21st-century economy. Just as important, I’ve had a 31-year career solving large, complex problems with diverse stakeholders, conflicting objectives, and difficult challenges. I study the issues and gather my facts, but I also listen with an open mind to other viewpoints. I’m already knowledgeable about municipal government, having worked closely with my wife Kim during her four years as Covington’s Mayor.

5. What criticisms have you heard, either directly or indirectly, about yourself as a candidate while on the campaign? Please address these criticisms, either explaining why they are inaccurate or how you will work to improve in an area.

• I’ve received no direct criticism, but I’m told some people won’t vote for me because of my prior advocacy for the acquisition of the Norfolk Southern Railroad corridor by the city, county, or some other entity. I ask only that these people visit my website, read my platform, and talk to me about what I stand for. They would find my focus is much broader, and I’m open to any actions that provide a net economic benefit for Covington, increase quality of life choices, and/or help ensure a sustainable future. I view the railroad corridor as I do any other opportunity that may come our way: keep an open mind, get the facts, assess against long-term strategies and plans, discuss openly, and make an informed decision based on return on investment. Respect emotions, but navigate by facts.

6. Please list one city council decision over the past four years that you agree with and explain why, and please list one city council decision over the past four years you disagree with and explain why. • Developing a Strategic Plan — One of the more important actions the Mayor and Council have taken would be to work with the City Manager, staff, and consultants to develop the 2012-2015 Strategic Plan adopted in July 2011. That was a crucial step in the evolution toward running the City as a business. By nature, elected leadership changes on a regular basis; additionally, Covington has experienced considerable turnover in key staff roles. The strategic plan is an important framework to keep the business of the people moving forward in a consistent direction towards long-term goals and shared interests, rather than starting over with each change in leadership. Unfortunately, the council has taken steps backward since adopting the plan. As a citizen and stakeholder in this community, I would like to see more active use of the strategic plan to drive key decisions and priorities, which will be a point of emphasis for me if elected.

• City Manager Search – The handling of the search for a successor to retiring City Manager Steve Horton is a prime example of why I say the council has been reactive and has not put proactive plans in place. This is not a comment on current City Manager Leigh Anne Knight, whom I will support 100%. But, the process was handled poorly. Considering Horton announced in July 2011 his intent to retire "in about a year," it’s difficult to understand why the council waited 13 month to begin the search for his replacement in August 2012, after Horton made it clear he would be gone by the end of the year. Even then, Covington started 2013 with an interim City Manager and did not fill the position until February of this year. The council should have started sooner and made a greater effort to ensure transparency and objectivity in the process, which would have greatly reduced the chances of the split votes and awkward missteps that plagued the final appointment.


Carter can be reached at, 678-516-5212 or via Facebook at

To read the previously-answered in-depth questionnaires about the candidates’ educational, professional, political financial and criminal backgrounds, visit, search for the article "Carter, Smith answer questions" and click on the attached PDFs.

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