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Farewell to the faces of Covington
Significant changes ahead for city planning department
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For more than 20 years, Doug Banks, Debbie Dial and Mary Vosyka have been the face of Covington to many residents and business owners. The three long-time city employees were the go-to people for anyone starting a new business or building a new home.

Long-time business owners and developers will be in for a surprise when they step inside the planning building next month as all three are retiring. For a department of six workers, that’s quite a change.

Although Planning Director Randy Vinson was hired by the city last year, he met Banks, Dial and Vosyka years before when he used to work for the county’s planning department. He came to know them even closer when he was developing Clark’s Grove.

"I’m glad I got the opportunity to know them for so many years. They were really were the face of Covington for me," Vinson said. "It’s going to be a huge change for this department, considering all the expertise and institutional knowledge they’ll take with them. We’ll have stumbles as we transition, but I’m sure they’ll be expecting some phone calls."

The city always experiences some turnover, but this year 20 employees accepted the city’s offer of early retirement. Personnel Director Ronnie Cowan said the city is hoping to leave at least 14 of those positions vacant, which will save the city more than $3 million over the next five years.

Whether it’s the police chief of more than 40 years or the city’s first safety/risk manager, who Cowan said helped the city prevent injuries and save money, the employees will be missed. But for the general public, the three planning employees who helped area residents navigate the city’s planning requirements and zoning ordinances, may form the largest void.

Three Retirees

While the city has had several planning directors over the past 20 years, Dial has been the zoning administrator since 1993. Her tenure with the city expands even further; she served as administrative assistant to former Mayor Bill Dobbs and City Manager Frank Turner Sr. for five years.

Coming from the mortgage and loan industry, Dial knew something of the development world, but wasn’t familiar with the technical permitting side of construction. During her 23 years with the city, Dial has had to learn how to review site plans and read through and interpret planning and zoning ordinances.

In addition, she’s served as clerk for eight separate commissions and boards, including the Historic Preservation Committee, the Planning Commission, the Tree Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals.

She’s seen the city go through the booming growth of the late 90s and mid-2000s and come back down to earth in recent years. One of the most significant changes in the past decade was the creation of Covington’s historic districts and its emphasis on historic preservation.

As members of the historic preservation committee plans to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the implementation of historic ordinances, Dial can remember when the ordinances were hotly debated. She said many people were not interested in preserving historic structures until the deterioration destroyed some of the city’s oldest buildings. Then people began to realize they might lose their history if they didn’t protect it, she said.

It was a welcome addition for Dial, who’s garnered a passion for history working under Turner.

"I believe history is a part of us. What happened 100 years ago led us to where we are now. The beauty of historical buildings and architecture," Dial said. "Frank sparked that interested and installed that in all his employees. We started to make protecting and promoting our history a part of our future plans."

Being able to work with the Tree Board has also given Dial the chance to bring her passion for the outdoors into her work. Helping protect the tree cover in the city has been important to her.

Though she’s retiring, Dial said she’s looking forward to continuing working with those groups and volunteer with organizations like FaithWorks. She’s going to continue her pet project of cataloguing all the historic homes in North Covington.

Dial, Banks and Vosyka all said they’ll miss the camaraderie of the office and the opportunity to interact with the public the most. However, Dial said she won’t miss having to say no.

"That was the hardest part of having to deal with the public. We always tried to meet the needs and desires of the people who came, but we often couldn’t for one reason or another. That was tough," she said.

Banks worked with the city for 33 years, including the last ten as senior building inspector. He made sure the buildings were up to code and helped train and assist his fellow inspectors.

Vosyka worked for Covington for 20 years, including the past 14 as a customer service representative for planning. She worked with occupational tax and alcohol licenses and building permits.

New Senior Planner

Scott Gaither is jumping right into the fire, as he was hired as the city’s senior planner. He will take over a new position, which will combine some of duties of Dial, as well as former Senior Planner Michelle Larsen.

Gaither graduated from Georgia State university in 2003 with a bachelor’s in Urban Policy Studies, and has worked with the Rockdale County engineering department as county planner for four years. He also spent a year as a development planner in Morgan County for one year, according to his resume.

He said he had admired Vinson’s work at Clark’s Grove for years and when an opening in Covington came available he applied. He’s looking forward to continuing the city’s work in Walker’s Bend, and helping with is other programs, like the Neighborhood Stabilization Plan and Livable Communities Initiative. He said he’s looking to working for a city which often has a chance to have a more intense, narrow focus than wider-ranging county plans.

Vinson said Gaither was hired because of his positive attitude and willingness to work with the public, as well as his broad planning knowledge, especially in dealing with code and zoning issues.

A new customer service representative will eventually be hired as well, but Banks position will remain vacant.