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Newton searching for new director over zoning, building permits
Judy Johnson
Attorney Richard Milam, far left, listens at the Historic Courthouse in 2021 as county Development Services director Judy Johnson, far right, speaks during the Newton County Planning Commission's consideration of Milam's then-controversial plan for a convenience store and fast-food restaurants at Ga. Hwy. 11 and I-20 . - photo by File Photo

COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton County is working to fill a key administrative position by the end of this month after its former Development Services director left to take a similar position in Jasper County.

Judy Johnson, who had led Newton County's Department of Development Services since 2018, resigned her position without notice March 28, county officials said.

Shena Applewhaite, chief planner for the department, was named interim director as a search began this week for a replacement.

Johnson was publicly introduced as the new planning and zoning director at the Jasper County Board of Commissioners' April 4 meeting.

She said she was attracted to the position because, “Jasper County is a beautiful and peaceful county with lots of opportunity to help protect its character, land and natural resources.”

“I’ve been fortunate and worked hard to have great opportunities with Newton County that has added to my skill set and fostered my passion to serve the community,” she said.  

Johnson said she grew up in a rural area.

“It’s exciting about getting back to my roots and using my skills to give back to this wonderful community that meets the goals of the elected officials and the citizens not only today, but for years to come,” she said.

Johnson worked in key positions with Newton County and Porterdale city governments over much of the past 17 years.

She had directed a Newton County department responsible for a myriad of services related to county regulation of new construction and businesses.

Development Services is responsible for permitting and inspection of new construction, issuing business and alcohol licenses, enforcing county codes, approving plats and plans for new subdivisions and commercial projects, working with applicants on requests for rezonings, and more.

Johnson also worked closely with three county boards — including the Board of Commissioners — as they dealt with the sometimes-complicated details of the county zoning ordinance in decisions on rezoning requests and development regulations in unincorporated Newton County.

She had led Newton County commissioners since early 2021 in approving a much-needed moratorium on new rezonings and residential subdivision plans. 

The moratorium was needed to allow commissioners to overhaul the county zoning ordinance and development standards to increase traffic flow and eliminate regulations that had led to sometimes irresponsible subdivision development, county planners said.

It also was needed to increase safety and mobility in some subdivisions allowed to develop with hundreds of homes and only one access point to main thoroughfares, she had said.

Her two stints with Newton County government included zoning administrator from late 2004 to mid-2009 and then in the same position from mid-2013 to late 2017, according to a LinkedIn page.

She then served as the Board of Commissioners' deputy clerk until her appointment as Development Services director in mid-2018.

Between her two stints with Newton County, Johnson also worked as the city clerk for Porterdale city government for two years and in private business in Porterdale.  

Qualifications for the position include certification from the American Institute of Certified Planners; a bachelor’s degree in Planning, Architecture, Public Administration or a related field; seven years of progressively responsible experience in community planning and development, zoning and codes administration and enforcement, or a related field,and including lead or supervisory experience.

However, "any equivalent combination of education, training, and experience which provides the requisite knowledge, skills and abilities for this job" can be used to qualify for the position, according to a job posting on the county's website.

Johnson also assisted in inspection work for the Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton Counties at its Stanton Springs South technology park for a new data center under construction there.

She said she was unsure if her work would continue even though she has moved to work in another of the four counties of the JDA.

“I am happy to continue serving the JDA as much as the county manager, Mike Benton, and the Jasper County Board of Commissioners desire me to be,” she said.