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Posted: July 10, 2009 12:30 a.m.

New city position in the works

Community/Economic Development Director position under debate

Covington’s proposed community/economic development director position has been a topic of debate since Councilman Keith Dalton expressed his opposition to the position at the June 15 city council meeting.

Dalton, Councilman John Howard and other community members have said they feel the position is financially unnecessary and duplicates the economic development duties of The Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce. Although the position was included in the budget, the city council will vote again to decide whether a director should be hired.

A job description has not been created for the job, and because the terms "community development" and "economic development" are so broad, council members and other leaders are unsure of the job’s function and purpose.

Mayor Kim Carter said the job’s functions haven’t been decided yet, and a subcommittee will have to be formed to determine those functions and objectives, by some elected officials, City Manager Steve Horton, Personnel Director Ronnie Cowan and representatives from Main Street, the chamber and the downtown development authority. Carter said there was no timetable for the subcommittee to be formed nor for the position to be created.

Horton said the position was conceptualized during conversations between himself, Cowan, Carter and others.

"We were talking about how much economic development activity we were

going to be generating in a down economy. Some people say a down economy is when you save money and decrease efforts, but some people say a down economy is when you can do your best work," Horton said.

The position would be largely tied into community development, centering around improving housing and the overall quality of life in the county. Carter said that community and economic development can’t be separated, because business leaders want to move to communities with amenities, including pedestrian trails, adequate shopping and good schools.

All of these are examples of community development, which can directly aid economic development. Carter said the recently passed Urban Redevelopment Plan, which stresses improved housing and the use of zoning tools, like opportunity and enterprise zones which can provide additional tax credits for businesses, is a perfect example of combined community and economic development. For example, the Planning and Zoning Department isn’t directly involved in bringing businesses to the city, but through those tools they create the environment necessary for attracting businesses.

Carter said carrying out this plan could be one of the major roles of the new director, if hired.

"Why has there been no URP until now? Because no one had time to work on it (over the years). We need someone to drive this every day," said Carter. "Departments like public works don’t think strategically; they go out and do the work needed. We need someone to focus on just community development and carry out all of the plans we’ve created over the years."

Carter said the chamber isn’t responsible for community development and that the needs of the county and city are different, so a full time city employee makes the most sense. She said there is a lot of money and resources available from the state and federal government, like the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

She acknowledged that the county needs to have a unified voice to present to the state for economic development, particularly in terms of bringing larger industries to the county, and Chamber Economic Development Director Shannon Davis is that voice. However, Carter said the chamber has limited resources and this position will offer support to the chamber and Main Street. She said a director could help provide knowledge to prospective clients about the city’s utilities and potential services and organize community tours or other events.

Carter said the position could also aid the chamber in meeting the additional needs of existing industries to make sure they stay in Covington.

Chamber President John Boothby, Davis and Main Street Director Josephine Kelly said they didn’t have any details of the position and hadn’t been consulted about the position.

The position will likely be fleshed out after the Covington Redevelopment Authority, the body which will help carry out the URP, is formed. Horton said the money was included in the budget up front, because if approved, the position was likely to be hired this fiscal year, and the city wanted to set aside the money, instead of having to amend the budget later. Carter said if approved, the position will be advertised normally like every other position.

Dalton and others have been concerned about the $78,000 price tag on the position including benefits, but Carter said this is the time to get a top flight person for the position at a potentially cheaper cost because of the economy. She also said that the position fits within the budget and that no taxes or additional fees are being levied on citizens’ this year.

As of now, Dalton, Howard and Councilman Mike Whatley are opposed to the position. Whatley said he feels that the position is a good one but shouldn’t be hired until the economy picks up.

Councilwoman Janet Goodman said she believed this was the time to invest so that the city was ready to take advantage of the economy when it did pick up. If the community has improved, then Covington might have a better chance to attract businesses looking to expand, she said. She also said that she thought it was important for the city to have an employee who would focus solely on Covington’s needs.

Councilwoman Ocie Franklin said she was unsure about whether the new position was needed and would have to give it more thought. Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams could not be reached by e-mail.

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