The current presidential race is said by some to be the year of the outsider. Covington was ahead of that trend four years ago when a newcomer to politics, Ronnie Johnston, was convincingly elected mayor.
We have arrived at another year of city elections, with qualifying just having been completed. All three city council members up for reelection have competition, but Mayor Johnston is running unopposed.
Speaking to the Kiwanis Club of Covington, Johnston thanked those present as well as all the citizens of the city for giving him the honor of serving as their mayor for another term. He stated he was not only indebted to the voters of Covington but to the more than 300 very dedicated employees that work for the city. He told those present, “Like it or not, you have me until 2020 as your Mayor.”
He reviewed what had been accomplished during last four years and shared his vision of how to continue making Covington a great place of live, to work, and to play.
During the past four years more than 400 new licenses have been issued for new businesses. During this same time, 1,000 new jobs were added to the workforce in Covington. The trend continues as Johnston told the Kiwanis Club that in the next few months there will probably be announced two major developments that could lead to over 400 million being invested in our community. This could create an additional 2000 jobs.
He shared some of the improvements in our city with the listeners, including refurbishing the Square that the city has assumed control of from Newton County. Unlike a few years ago when the Square seemed to close up around 5 p.m., there are people around the square later. He asked the club where do you think the visitors to our city come from? His answer was “from all over the world.”
Improvements he pointed to was the new plaza at the monument in memory of those who had died in war from the Frist World War to now, the stage for concerts, and the redesign of the walks that lets water flow away from the center. Many major events are held at the Square, such as the Fourth of July Festivities, Christmas on the Square, Memorial Day Service and several series of concerts both on evenings and at noon. The crowds for all have grown over the last few years.
Another major improvement has been the work at Legion Field. Improvements include a historical fairground entrance, an open air pavilion on the foot print of the one sixty years ago, refurbishing the fair building, and a paved parking area. For both the Square and Legion Field the funding came from the Hotel/Motel Tax.
The future holds a band shell for Legion Field and a whole new park to be called Parkers Pasture. Parkers Pasture has 93 acres. Some of the area will be used for housing. The park area is projected to have a dog park, skate board park, walk ways including wetland board walk, a children’s playground, a wild flower meadow, a mountain bike trail, and even “Frisbee” golf. This area is on the west side running from Highway 26, back of Nelson Heights, to Washington Street. It will touch seven neighborhoods.
A major part of the mayor’s future vision is zero unemployment. He said that he knew there were those who laugh at this goal and say it is not possible. But his challenge is for us to work hard to make sure there is a job for all who need one. This calls not only for development in the business community but to provide the education that is needed. We must be sure not only to have jobs needed but a labor force that is empowered to take advantage of the openings.
He pointed to the coming of Baxalta, a global bioscience and biopharmaceuticals company that is building a plant here that will, when fully staffed, offer 1500 positions. One benefit of this development has been the opening of the Bioscience Training Center that will not only equip people for jobs at Baxalta but also will be a strong draw for other companies in this fast growing field to come to our area.
He challenged the Kiwanians and the citizens of Covington to become involved in the lives of our children to encourage them by reading with them. He said that a love for reading must start early in life. He called for the schools, the churches, the community centers, and others to work together to reach the young of our area.
Another major change in our city will be the Community Improvement District that will hopefully be enacted along the Highway 278 corridor. Though in area one of the smallest in the state, it could have a tremendous impact on our city. One feature will be new “gateway” exits at exit 90, 92, and 93 on I-20. They will be designed to lead people to get off the interstate and do business in our city.
Mayor Johnston thanked the city for the privilege of letting him be their Mayor and challenged all to be involved where they can to make this is a greater place to live, to work, and to play.
B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington.