COVINGTON, Ga. — Three of five candidates vying for seats on the Covington City Council in the Nov. 2 municipal election recently participated in a candidate forum hosted by the Newton County Republican Party.
Anthony Henderson, Susie Keck and Scotty Scoggins were welcomed to The Reserve at Hendricks on Tuesday, Oct. 19, to answer a variety of questions from residents and the local newspaper.
Henderson is seeking reelection to Post 3, representing the West Ward. Unless a write-in candidate emerges, he is unopposed.
During his opening remarks, Henderson described himself as a Covington guy, born and raised in the Nelson Heights community, and someone who had “lived a life of service."
After graduating from Eastside High School and briefly attending college, Henderson took a position with the Newton County Sheriff’s Office as a detention officer. He later became a code enforcement officer until his resignation in June.
“As a kid, not seeing many resources, not seeing many parks, [and] not seeing many programs that could actually help build myself actually inspired me to run for office,” Henderson said. “Since being in office, I’ve made it my job and my duty to create opportunities for not only my side of the city, but the entire city.”
Henderson said he helped initiate two successful job fairs that created more than 200 jobs for people from the West Ward. He also helped organize the first-ever record expunging event in Covington to allow individuals with misdemeanors, or “small criminal charges” the ability to have their records expunged, Henderson said.
Like Henderson, Keck is also seeking reelection to keep her seat in Post 1 representing the East Ward. However, Keck is being challenged by newcomer Carla Ferry. Ferry was not present for the forum.
Rather than talk much about herself, Keck used her opening remarks as a time to speak about a range of issues she said she’s heard concerns about while on the campaign trail.
“What I’m hearing is the No. 1 concern is growth,” Keck said. “I’ve checked some data, and we have grown 1.36% a year over the last 10 years. There’s a good side of growth, such as a rising tax digest, which helps us hold our property tax; our rising per capita income; new jobs; attention from the state Department of Economic Development. We are the envy of most towns across the state with our film and television industry. Ballooning tourism, which keeps our hotels full and we have more hotels being built.
“But there’s a downside of growth,” she continued, “and most is based on fear of change and unknown. That is human nature. Traffic becomes more difficult. We’re afraid people who live in apartments aren’t going to care about the community. We’re afraid of the impact on our school system, when actually single-family homes have a large impact on our school system.”
Keck said there wasn’t much that could be done with former farm land that had been zoned for multi-family use more than 30 years ago. What could be done is “hold everyone to a high standard.” She said the city council was currently looking at how growth could be controlled moving forward while a moratorium is in place until February, which allows city planning and zoning specialists to see how other communities are handling similar growth and determine what changes need to be made to the city’s zoning and planning requirements.
Scoggins was the only political newcomer to participate in the forum. He is seeking to replace longtime Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams in Post 2 representing the West Ward.
Scoggins is not only a political newcomer, but he’s also fairly new to Covington, having moved to the area just three years ago.
Scoggins described himself as “very transparent and honest” person who has spent several years working for “corporate America,” handling multi-million dollar budgets for companies such as Home Depot and BellSouth. Scoggins currently lives in Clark’s Grove and serves as the subdivision’s homeowner association president.
“I tell people I don’t really need to be running for city council,” Scoggins said during his opening remarks, “ but when we moved here, it became pretty clear to me … that city seems to end at Emory Street — at least that’s the opinion of a lot of people in the West Ward. Since that time, I decided I’m not going to complain about it anymore. Instead I’m going to see what I can do about it.”
Scoggins said he had personally visited nearly 900 homes in the West Ward while on the campaign trail, and after speaking to “hundreds and hundreds” of people, he made a discovery.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, Black, white, old, young, local and grew up here forever or newcomer,” he said. “If you live in the West Ward, you don’t feel part of the city.”
While visiting these homes, Scoggins said he encountered several people living in terrible conditions.
“You know, we spend a lot of times talking about apartments and growth,” he said, “all of which are fantastic. I’m an accountant so I understand finances. We have a $142 million dollar budget here — a growing budget. You need people on here that understand how to handle [that] and everything that comes along with it … [That] doesn’t scare me. What does scare me is that overshadows the humanity of the people that are living right next door to us … You can manage the growth of the city and take care of your neighbors at the same time.”
Charika Davis is also vying for Williams’ seat, but she was not present for the forum.
Brendan Cherry, chairman of the Newton County Republican Party, said all candidates were invited to attend the forum. Taylor Beck, editor and publisher of The Covington News, served as moderator for the event.
Candidates each were given up to 10 minutes to make opening remarks before answering a series of questions. Questions from audience members, the local newspaper and residents unable to attend in person each addressed a myriad of issues such as growth, the influx of apartments, ways to attract more retail and restaurant options and homelessness. Candidates were given up to three minutes to respond to each question.
One of the first questions lodged at the candidates was centered on apartments. Simply put, they were asked to defend the need for more apartments despite an already high number of existing units and many more on track to be constructed.
“There’s a couple of answers to this question,” Keck said. “One, we have a whole lot of people that work in our area that don’t live here, because we don’t have the type of housing they want to live in. These young people that are working at Takeda and General Mills and Bridgestone … they’re driving to Atlanta and they’re living … in different places. They’re not buying homes. Young people are not buying homes.
“Young people want amenities,” she added. “So apartments are the trend right now, for the young people, and we have to attract the young people. I know we have a lot of people who have lived here for generations, but if we don’t retain the people that are working here to spend their money here … we’re just spinning our wheels.
“How do we increase ownership? We bring them here, we get them loving it here, and they build houses,” Keck concluded. “The days of spec homes are gone.”
Henderson responded in agreement with Keck and said he was one of those young professionals who currently lives in an apartment.
“I think a lot of times we see 60% rental and 40% [homeowners], it’s not because people can’t [buy a home],” Henderson said. “It’s a lot of times people don’t want to or just haven’t decided if [home ownership is right for them] and their future here.
“I’ll never be in favor of just any type of housing,” Henderson continued. “It has to make sense. It has to fit that community, the zoning, etc. …”
Scoggins answered by speaking about Covington’s potential to become a “livable city” by offering a large quantity of various housing options.
“I’ve been reading for the past couple of years this concept of livable cities,” Scoggins said. “It might scare you at first, if you’re a conservative like me, but as you read into it, it makes a lot of sense.
“So, forget about whether things are rented or owned for a minute,” he said. “What you want is a community where someone is born into and they grow up there and there is all kinds of housing that is available to them as they go through their life, and they just stay.
“But livable cities — Covington has the bones to be an amazing city, probably the best city in the state of Georgia, because how many cities our size have a trail system? How many cities our size have a square that you can walk to?”
As for creating more home ownership, Scoggins suggested opportunities could be made if action were taken against the numerous homes in poor condition on the West Side that are currently being leased.
When asked how candidates would “curb” the number of apartments being built within Covington, of if they would even commit to doing so, each candidate said that would be difficult to do.
“What you can do is make sure that they are the highest possible quality that you can get,” Scoggins said.
“You can’t just say, ‘I don’t want apartments in the community,’” Henderson said. “If the lands fits the zoning and it’s appropriate to be built, we can just say it can’t be built. You have to legally give a reason why it can’t be built.”
Henderson echoed Scoggins in saying it would be left up to city leaders to raise the standards of what types of apartments can built in the area.
“If it’s legal, and it’s right and it’s met all the criteria, then how can I say no?” Henderson said. “I can’t just say I’m against apartments.”
Keck, again, said apartments could be served as a way to attract young people and garner them to become life-long residents.
“One thing that I know is that we’ve got plenty of apartments coming out of the ground, and we’re going to have more apartments want to come here, because we are on the map,” Keck said. “It’s a wonderful place to live. And we’ve got to figure out how to get people to buy more homes. One way to get people to buy more homes is let them live in a nice apartment, learn what a beautiful community we have, and we’ll have developers want to build homes. If you wanted to buy a home today and you were being transferred into Covington, I would dare say you can’t find a home. In my neighborhood, if there’s a for sale sign in a yard, the house gets sold that week.
“It’s easy to say, ‘No apartments,’” Keck continued. “I would never campaign and say, ‘No apartments' … You can’t say, ‘No apartments,’ unless you like to be in the courts the rest of your life.”
Candidates were later asked how they would work to avoid overgrowth within the city.
Henderson echoed his response to previously related questions, saying controlling growth could be addressed through stricter ordinances on new developments to bring in higher quality apartments.
Keck said that the city was currently addressing overgrowth in various ways, including conducting traffic studies, extending those studies to be conducted annually. The city council has also asked city planning and zoning specialists to look at how other cities are doing and learn from their mistakes, she said. Keck said the council was also checking to see what things can legally be requested of developers. For example, could they be asked to build a fire station or police precinct, or at least cover the cost?
“I don’t want to stop growth,” Keck said. “I want to get good growth, and I want developers to help pay for the services we need.”
Scoggins said the issue of growth was part of the reason why he decided to run for office.
“How many of you drive around the city and see empty shopping centers and buildings? Why not use what’s already here? There’s an example of how you manage growth. You can’t stop the growth. It’s going to happen, because this is a fantastic place to be … One of the ways to manage growth is to build a protection around the Square about half a mile out and really focus on what happens within that little area. Because I think when people say, ‘manage the growth,’ I think they’re worried about the Square being overrun and the traffic.”
When asked how candidates would attract more retail and restaurant options to the area, Keck said it would take what it seems most people don’t want — more housing and more people. She revealed that developers who sealed the deal to bring Publix to anchor the Town Center project said the national supermarket chain would not come to the area without rooftops.
“Growth brings those things,” she said.
To hear more from the candidates on other topics, visit the Newton County Republican Party’s Facebook page to watch a replay of the forum at https://fb.watch/8T9hmk2s1d/.
Election Day is Nov. 2, but early voting is open through Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Newton County Administration Building.