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Council eyes removing Main Street, Tourism, ED from chamber

COVINGTON, Ga. – After nearly an hour’s worth of conversation in a work session prior to the televised meeting, the Covington City Council formed a consensus to sit down with the Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce board to express issues seen within the Main Street and Tourism departments and work towards improvements. In the council’s meeting later that evening, little discussion was heard and a 5-1 vote confirmed the decision to maintain the city’s current relationship with the Main Street and Tourism departments. 

“Just to be transparent, this is on the agenda because we had a work session in October and we had a discussion about the performance with those two entities within the chamber,” Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston said to start the work session conversation. “We had a lengthy discussion about that and came to the conclusion that we need to revisit the discussion to potentially terminate that contract. 

“I am fully aware there’s been a ton of discussion on different thoughts on that issue since that meeting we had and I need to kind of get a feel for how the council wants to go on this.”

The decision at hand, would be whether or not the council would provide the required six-month notice to the chamber to terminate the automatically-renewed contract. 

One week earlier, in a special called council work session, Chamber President Ralph Staffins presented the 2019 comprehensive plan to the council. The majority of the council agreed Monday evening to give the chamber and its departments an opportunity to let that plan play out. 

“Given that he has done a presentation of planned programs and activities, I would like to give him the opportunity to carry out those plans, but if it does not happen then we can move to another level of what we need to do,” Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams said. 

Councilman Michael Whatley echoes Williams’ statement.

“Of course, they have problems just like anybody else, but I think if we give them time and work with them I think they can straighten those problems out,” he said. “If not, we can move them.”

Councilwoman Susie Keck said she made a personal commitment to work with the chamber on a monthly basis. She said she would like a chance to uphold her commitment.

“Obviously, some things need to be addressed,” Councilman Josh McKelvey said. “I think the presentation we had sounded great. I think it can be great.”

Councilman Kenneth Morgan disagreed and cast the only dissenting vote.

“I’ve basically been here three years and we’ve gone back and forth and back and forth about the chamber about what we felt like we needed to do,” Morgan said. “I have always been optimistic that they could do what we wanted them to do but there are certain things that I am still not happy with.

“I’m kind of at a point right now where I would like to look at a different direction.”

In related news, the council also voted 5-1 to initiate a conversation with Newton County to possibly revoke the chamber’s contract to manage the Covington-Newton County Economic Development Office. Everyone except Councilman Anthony Henderson agreed if the county was on board, the process to move the ED office under the management of the Industrial Development Authority would begin. 

As a 50/50 department between the city and the county, the decision would have to be a consensus. The decision to move it under the IDA would make a perfect fit, Johnston said, because it has equal representation between the county and the city. 

At the Newton County Board of Commission meeting Tuesday evening, the discussion of the ED office was not on the agenda or brought up by the board.