COVINGTON, Ga. - Covington City Councilmembers Hawnethia Williams and Kenneth Morgan had questions and concerns about Councilman Josh McKelvey’s representation on the Newton County Recreation Commission after the termination of Recreation Director Anthony Avery was announced last month.
Public comment sparks conversation
The discussion started at Monday night’s Covington City Council meeting with the public comment from Thelma Star Nolley. Nolley addressed McKelvey directly in her comments.
“Could you help me to understand why it is that if you’re appointed to a committee and that you can vote to take a man’s job, but then when they mayor had a problem and he came here and asked if we could forgive him, but you didn’t vote to step him down,” she said. “So why is it that we don’t have to all play by the same rules? I mean, we should all play by the same rules. If you’re going to vote to take one man’s job then we should have told the mayor to step down too, so we need to start playing by the same rules.”
McKelvey said he was confused about the different rules or standards Nolley was implying.
“I sit on that recreation commission board and I have to act in the best interest of the community,” he said. “I’ve been there for two years and I’ve been very observant and I haven’t tried to rock any boats.”
McKelvey said he could not completely discuss the termination because of pending litigation.
“I can’t comment too much further on that, but I have my reasons and I would never fire or vote to fire or terminate anyone unless I thought without any doubt that they were doing something wrong, and I’ll leave that one at that,” he said.
As for Mayor Ronnie Johnston stepping down from his position after an open container and seatbelt violations that were issued earlier this year, McKelvey said he did not have the authority to ask him to do that.
“I’m not in charge of hiring or firing the mayor, the people are,” he said.
McKelvey said he did not feel badly about his vote to terminate Avery.
Williams makes comment
During the councilmember comments portion of the meeting, Williams said she was disappointed that she, along with the rest of the council, was not notified about Avery’s termination prior to it happening.
“When we are appointed to positions, boards, committees, what have you, we owe it to these people on here, whether it goes into a legal – or whatever allegations it goes into – we owe it to the persons that are sitting here (around the council table) some respect in terms of those things that occur on the board or committee that you’re on,” she said. “I feel that there should be some kind of, I said in the last city council meeting, there should have been some knowledge of things that were going on before we found out about it in the public about the recreation board or recreation person and if there were some problems then we should have known about it all along.”
Williams said she felt that she was not able to address the public about the issue because she was not informed.
“You know, we live in a very strange society,” she said. “I know that there’s a lot going on in our country, a lot being said about sexual misconduct and all of that from the White House to the little house, but in addition to the things that are going on in the big house, the White House, there are things that are going on in our small town. We move forward in 2017, but in some ways we move backwards. Sometimes we conspire, and I’m not saying there was conspiracy, but sometimes there’s a meeting of minds to sometimes not always include everybody in decisions that were made.”
Williams said whether there are legal ramifications or not, the council deserves to be informed of decisions being made by councilmembers serving in appointed positions.
“I don’t know what the reasons may have been for getting rid of this young man, or what have you, but I think we were owed some respect in terms of letting us know what happened,” she said.
Williams said there are things happening in Newton County in 2017 that disturb her.
“The control that people seek to have of this city and county is just appalling sometimes and it still bothers me that we go back before even the Civil Rights Movement in terms of some of the ways in which we carry on and we go away from what’s best for the city and county and we go sometimes to our own agendas and we don’t look at what’s right for everybody, we look at what’s right sometimes for our own situations,” she said.
Williams said she did not mean to put a damper on the meeting or the upcoming holiday season, but wanted bring awareness about what needed to be said.
“I’m really disturbed about this,” she said. “Not because he was a person of color that may be – you know I don’t know if that was an issue – I’m not concerned about that. It’s just the idea that we were not informed about it and I think that we should have been.”
Morgan echoes Williams’ concerns
Morgan said transparency is the key to everything and since the council has representation on the NCRC board; the council members deserved an explanation.
“As common curtesy, we are supposed to report back and let everybody know what is actually going on and in this particular situation there were a lot of things that took place, a lot of things that transpired that we was (sic.) not made aware of, that we did not know,” he said. “I’m not saying what should have been done, what should not have been done, I’m saying that from the standpoint of this council, we should have had the insight to know exactly what was going on before everything escalated to this point.”
Morgan said the council should have been involved in the decision that was made.
He also remembered back when Avery was appointed to the position of recreation director and described how a lot of people in the community were not happy about his appointment.
“I do know that he has been come at from the left and the right side because of that recreation department that he was over for some that didn’t want him there for whatever reason, whether it was racially motivated or whatever,” he said. “The fact of the matter is there was a group that did not want him on that board.”
Morgan said perception is reality and because Avery was the first African American to serve as the recreation director his termination, based on the way it was handled, has sent a message out to the community that something was done incorrectly.
“It just doesn’t feel real well (sic.),” he said. “It looks like there was some underhanded things, which I’m not saying that there was, but I’m just saying as council people we need to just make sure that we have respect of each other as our counterparts and make sure we’re communicating the way that we need to communicate.”
Morgan emphasized that the termination of Avery was not a decision made by the Covington City Council, and only one member of the council is represented on the NCRC board.
“I just want to make sure that everyone knows, from my perspective as a councilmember, that I had nothing to do with the termination of Mr. Avery from the recreation department,” he said.
Mayor Johnston intervenes
Johnston questioned the council on whether or not any of the concerns had been communicated with McKelvey personally.
“Since in the last meeting this was brought up as well, and I actually understand the point of not being informed,” he said. “I actually asked both of y’all, or those who were concerned or had questions, to contact Mr. McKelvey. Have y’all talked to Mr. McKelvey since the last meeting we had two weeks ago?”
Johnston said council members should be able to call each other with any question they have to get the detailed information they desire.
“It would be one thing if you were up there telling me right now, ‘I called Mr. McKelvey, and he said none your business I’m not going to share anything with you,’ but I’m assuming that hasn’t happened yet,” he said.
Johnston recommended that council members not jump to conclusions or suggest any conclusions before information becomes more clear.
“Let’s go through the proper process and make sure that, not only did Josh represent us appropriately – which I believe he does – but we also get the information that we deserve,” he said.
City is not liable for recreation termination
City Attorney Frank Turner told The Covington News that, to his knowledge, the city is not liable in any legal ramifications that may come from the termination of Avery, as Avery is a county employee.
Even though the city has an appointment on the NCRC board, the city is not responsible for the decisions made by that board.
McKelvey responds to complaints
The Covington News reached out to McKelvey following the council meeting to ask for a comment regarding the complaints made by his fellow councilmembers.
“In my two years on the council, I’ve never had anyone reach out to me to say ‘Hey, here’s what’s going on with the committee I’ve been appointed to,’” McKelvey said. “When we appoint someone to a committee, we entrust our appointees to make decisions without having to poll the rest of the council.
“I had to make a decision with the information in front of me that evening. There was no time to ask the rec. commission for a recess to call my council members and poll them. We had been reviewing and discussing information for a few hours and a decision needed to be made.”
McKelvey said Williams and Morgan have not reached out to him to talk about Avery’s termination.