COVINGTON, Ga. — Two motions to shake up the Covington Planning Commission recently failed.
During its Oct. 5 meeting, the Covington City Council discussed potentially removing up to three members from the planning commission. After Councilman Kenneth Morgan made an initial motion to begin the process of removal and Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams gave a second, other council members questioned the potential action.
Councilman Anthony Henderson asked if any vacancies had to be filled immediately. Mayor Steve Horton said he thought it was in the best interest of the council to do so, but deflected to City Attorney Frank Turner, Jr. for confirmation. Turner said he thought it would be “prudent” to replace members removed in the same meeting; however, there are no legal requirements.
Morgan then echoed Turner by saying pushing such actions down the road wasn’t a good idea. He said there were four people willing to serve who could fill the immediate vacancies.
Henderson said he was familiar with the potential replacements’ names but that was all. He wasn’t comfortable voting to appoint any of them. He was adamant throughout the meeting in saying each council member should be allowed to appoint one person to a board.
Councilman Don Floyd agreed with Henderson but was also confused about the situation.
“If I knew we were going to remove and appointment someone, I would have made sure that I had a name, and I don’t … I can’t do it,” he said. “Have I missed something?”
Horton said the planning commission’s makeup had been in question and remained a topic of discussion among the council for several weeks.
“As much as we’ve talked about this, I thought maybe that it was — I guess a point of contention. I’m sorry,” Horton said.
Councilwoman Fleeta Baggett then asked how the removal process would work.
“How do you decide who goes?” she said.
Horton answered saying the motion wasn’t concerning the removal of a particular person, rather it was a motion basically asking, “are you open to removing members?” He then shared his own opinion about the issue.
“My concern about the whole entire process is, if you go to moving people, what’s the impact to other people who are out there serving on these different boards and how do they foresee it?” he said. “What’s the longterm impact?”
Horton then asked for a vote. Morgan and Williams voted in favor of removal, but the remainder of the council opposed causing the motion to fail.
After the vote, Horton said the council members “still owe it to the community and to each council member to know where we go from here.” He then brought up the idea of increasing the number of seats on the planning commission from nine to 13.
To do so, Turner said the process would be much like a rezoning request: it would go before the planning commission for its input, then be returned to the council for a first and second reading, then a final vote of adoption by the council.
Horton cited the pandemic as a reason why increasing the number of seats could be a good idea. He said if too many people fell ill, having a larger commission could avoid having to postpone or cancel meetings, delaying items of business.
Williams then made a motion to begin the process of increasing the number of seats on the planning commission from nine to 13. Morgan gave a second.
Before the vote, Baggett said increasing the number of seats was a bad idea.
“As someone who has sat on several of these commissions, when you get these that big, you spin your wheels,” Baggett said. “You cannot have these commissions that big. It just doesn’t work. I don’t think they need to be any larger. I don’t have a problem with shifting things around, but when you start getting them that big … you don’t get anything accomplished.”
Morgan responded by saying adding to the total number of seats on the commission wasn’t his initial goal, but because the council voted against removing members, he felt it was the next best choice.
“I’d like to say, my whole thing was, I didn’t necessarily want to add (seats),” Morgan said. “My goal was to remove (members). But I think in the concept of the way this planning commission is set, where you have eight white men and one black female on there, you need more diversity to represent our community. So if we can’t remove anybody, we definitely need to add some more to the board to make sure every board we have in this city is a representation of our entire city.”
Henderson said he agreed with Baggett, saying packing the commission wasn’t a good option.
Williams then gave her thoughts on the issue. She said in such “divided times,” not adding seats or changing up the commission to allow a more diverse representation was “sending a mixed message.” Williams also said she felt like the planning commission members were more focused on “making sure it maintains its power” rather than the needs of the city.
Councilwoman Susie Keck then made a point to squash any potential rumors of foul play occurring within the planning commission.
“This is my third year serving as council. And every year that I’ve served on the council, these board positions have come up and we’ve all had the opportunity to put somebody on the board,” she said. “And in the past, when the day is come for names, over and over people have not submitted any names. And the names of the people currently serving, I have several people that I came to the council with and those people are serving on boards today. So I don’t feel like the Planning Commission has any power over the city because we have the ultimate power when we vote. And we also have the ultimate ability to put people on these committees. And I don’t think there’s been any wrongdoing and I don’t think it should be insinuated that there has been.”
When Horton called for a vote, the motion failed 4-2. (Morgan and Williams voted in favor of the motion.)
Prior to the discussion concerning the planning commission, the council shared a working list of guidelines for all prospective and current board and committee members for the city of Covington, which were first introduced Sept. 11.
The guidelines included:
- Prospective board and committee members must submit an updated bio or resume.
- Staff shall not ask board or committee members if they are willing to serve a subsequent term unless directed to do so by the city council.
- Related annual training will be required for all board and committee members including sexual harassment and diversity training held at prescribed
- Attendance and performance guidelines that detail behavior for which board and committee members may be removed from office will be prescribed by city council members along with the assistance of the city attorney.
- Guidelines for monitoring the behavior of board and committee members when interacting with each other, citizens and city staff will be defined and implemented by the city council.
A follow-up work session to “revisit” items 1-5 was scheduled to be held at 5 p.m. before the council’s Oct. 19 meeting.