The topic of Nelson Heights Community Center wasn’t an item on Monday night’s Covington City Council agenda, so there wasn’t an issue to cause a formal protest.
However, approximately 20 adults and 10 children showed up at Covington City Hall in support of public comments by Pastor James Durden of Nelson Heights Community Church and Sandy Henderson, wife of District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson, concerning the center. Both Durden and Sandy Henderson were at the meeting to demand the council leave the Nelson Heights Community Center under the county, which currently allots $40,000 in appropriations a year to the center.
The city council has not requested to take over the operations of the center, and in order to do so, would have to be granted that ability by the Newton County Board of Commissioners (BOC). The BOC would have to make a motion to move the Nelson Heights Community Center, which is in the Covington city limits, from its appropriations, and allow the city to take over oversight.
“I don’t know where the rumors are coming from,” Henderson said. “The rumors that said the city of Covington Police Department was going to take over the building … We have weddings there, we have baby showers there … It pays to have stuff at the building.”
Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton, who was in attendance Monday night to help present findings of the Policing in the 21st Century task force, said it was news to him that there was any intention of putting a precinct in at the community center.
Covington resident Thelma Starr, of the Stone Mountain Street neighborhood, introduced the children in attendance, saying they were the “young children who [go] to the center at Nelson Heights to get the extra help they need.”
She also introduced Cotton, telling the children, “if you have a problem, don’t fear calling him.”
Durden gave the council a brief explanation of why he was there, despite the council having never placed the issue on its agenda.
“We’ve been approached about the center being taken away from [District 4] Commissioner [J.C.] Henderson,” Durden said, adding that the group had come “to make sure you all see who you’ll take the center from; make you think twice about taking the building from the people.”
Durden also repeated another rumor that he heard, that Nelson Heights Community Center would become a precinct of the Covington Police Department, and said, “If problems haven’t been solved without a precinct, it won’t be solved with one. The drug dealers, the drug houses are still there. They’re not afraid. This is what they do, even with the community center sitting there.”
He said the children in attendance came not because they were forced to, but because they wanted to, asking why the city would want to take away a building that provided lunches to children in the summer and afterschool homework help and snacks during the academic year.
Durden said the same group would be attending the BOC meeting at the Newton County Historic Courthouse this evening to make similar statements.
Sandy Henderson told the council the after school program is set to start the week of Aug. 22.
“The community center needs to stay just like it is,” she said. “We want the building to stay just like it is.”
Later, resident Christine Young Brown, president of the Rockdale-Newton counties Southern Christian Leadership Conference spoke. “I’m not trying to disparage the church, but they’re only having church in that community center," she said, of Rising Son Christian Church, which meets at the center. "They don’t need someone to open up the building to have church. They need programming.”
Durden objected to Brown's statement, saying there was programming at the center.
Other than Cotton stating that he had not heard anything about a precinct opening in either Nelson Heights, city staff and city council did not comment on the public remarks.