COVINGTON, Ga. - Five candidates for city council posts in Covington and one Oxford council candidate came together Thursday night around the horseshoe at Newton County’s Historic Courthouse to give voters a chance to meet them and hear their ideas for improving life for residents in their respective cities.
Poverty was one of the issues Covington Post 3 West Ward candidates Anthony Henderson, Jeffrey Johnson and incumbent Ocie Franklin, along with Post 2 East Ward candidates Susie Keck and incumbent Chris Smith and Oxford Post 6 candidate Jeff Wearing grappled with during the two-hour event.
Moderator Jonathan Paschal of Smart Growth Newton County, a forum sponsor, told the candidates the United States Census Bureau estimates that 25 percent of Covington’s residents are living below the government-defined poverty level, and Newton County’s poverty level is around 17 percent compared to national averages around 15 percent.
He asked each candidate what role city government should play in reducing the area’s poverty level.
Franklin said more jobs and more training are necessary to address the poverty level.
“We have to have jobs within this city that will fit the people in this city,” she said. “If you don’t have training, you cannot do the job. You have to get work ready.”
Citing the number of students living in poverty, Henderson said he would take a more hands-on approach to help people dealing with poverty.
“As a city representative, I would be more hands-on,” he said. “I would keep my sights on the kids and senior citizens. I think it’s personal.”
Johnson said the key is education and job training, including resume and work ethic workshops.
“The way to fight poverty in Newton County has two key points, education and job training,” he said, “We have to help our city earn an education. Jobs are coming to our community. We have to prepare people for the jobs.”
“I think you can sum it up in one word,” Smith said. “It’s jobs. We have to have good jobs in our community. We have to find a way to get jobs, recruit jobs and recruit industry into our city.”
Keck said she sees poverty every day working at the food bank. She said the entire community needs to address the problem.
“That food comes to the food bank from Publix, Sam’s, Kroger and other places,” she said. “It doesn’t come from the government. I think to help with poverty the community has to address the problem, not just the city. It has to be a joint effort.”
Wearing said education and opportunity are keys to addressing poverty countywide.
“My belief is when you educate somebody, you have to take care of them and educate them the best way you can for what they are capable of doing,” he said. “That’s one of the priorities we need to look at.”
The approximately 200 people in attendance also heard the candidates talk about their ideas for transportation, parks and trails and ways to attract business and millennials to the area.
In addition to Smart Growth Newton County, the forum was sponsored by the Democratic and Republican Parties of Newton County.
The election is Nov. 7. Advanced in-person voting begins Oct. 16.