COVINGTON, Ga. – Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston reached out to the Covington City Council Monday evening during its work session for guidance after a Facebook video surfaced of a sitting county commissioner challenging the city about the conditions of a county-owned park within the city limits of Covington.
'J.C. Henderson was live'
Commissioner J.C. Henderson shared a Facebook live video March 30 at Spillers Park asking the city to take action to beautify and repair the park.
“The City of Covington has a $130 million budget every year to spend for services in the City of Covington, but yet when it comes to the Nelson Heights, Green Acres, and other communities like the housing projects, we’ve got no playground equipment or something like this,” he said in the video.
Henderson brought up several other parks within the city limits that were maintained better than Spillers Park. He also touched on the city’s planned Central Park project but asked for immediate action.
“Why can’t we do something now for our children who we know and love to have a decent place to play in the community,” he said in the video.
Henderson said city residents deserve better.
“I will be criticized like ‘Well, J.C. is just trying to get something started,’ but this has been here for years,” he said in the video. “We deserve better. Our children deserve better.”
In the video, piles of mulch can be seen throughout the park. Henderson said that mulch was not enough to revitalize the park.
“This place is so filthy, I wouldn’t bring my dog if I had a dog, out here to walk on this field, but yet they want our children to play on this filthy, low-down, dirty playground,” he said in the video. “It’s wrong. I’m telling you it’s wrong. You know it’s wrong.”
Henderson encouraged city residents to get out and vote to elect people willing to make a change. He said he would be making other stops throughout the community to help try to make a difference.
Johnston: It’s the county’s park
Johnston said Spillers Park is a county-owned park within Covington’s city limits. According to the Newton County Recreation website, Spillers Park is located at 9134 Jefferson Ave. in Covington. It is approximately 2 acres and is designed as a traditional neighborhood park.
Johnston said Henderson’s video angered him because it painted a picture of neglect and discrimination by the city, that he said was just not true.
“I’ve got to be honest with y’all, it incensed me because, as you all know – if you don’t know, you need to know – this is a county park. It’s not a city park,” Johnston said.
Johnston said he has previously been chastised for attempting to get the city involved in county-run community facilities, like Nelson Heights Community Center or the parks.
“For me, it was clearly a ‘They care about this side of town, they don’t care about this other side of town,’ that’s how it was portrayed to me,” he said. “It is a problem.”
Councilman Anthony Henderson, J.C. Henderson’s son, said he disagreed with Johnston’s interpretation of the video.
“As you can look factually, what has the city done as far as recreation or parks; what have they done,” he said.
Anthony Henderson was elected to the Covington City Council to represent the West Ward in November and his term started at the beginning of the 2018 calendar year.
“I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt because you haven’t been sitting in this seat that long,” Johnston said. “We’re in the process of working on and doing and performing the biggest Central Park that this community has ever seen. Your father has been sitting on the rec. board for 30 some-odd years and that’s their responsibility. They’ve never spent a dime within the city of Covington. If anything, that ticks me off right there.”
Johnston said he agreed the condition of the park was “awful,” but did not agree it was the city’s responsibility to fix it.
“To say the city of Covington ignores that side of town is completely out of line,” he said. “It is pathetic.”
Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams, who also represents the West Ward, said her district has continued to play catch-up after previous leadership allowed for it to fall behind.
“I see a lot of differentiation between the East and the West,” she said. “This went on years and years and years ago. You can just look at the difference in the trees on Conyers Street and Floyd Street as they stop before they come on the West side. I noticed that. That’s one of the reasons why I did run for office because I saw the difference between the East and the West.
“But we have to look at that you had people on the council on the West, they should have at that particular time addressed the issue. Any time I see a difference of what is going on, I’m going to speak loud and clear about it. I think there’s an effort to make a difference. I think the difference has occurred as a result of time. Therefore, anything like a car, if it’s not worked on it is going to get worse over time. That’s any mechanism, it’s going to go down if there’s not the upkeep of it.
“There’s not been a regression of upkeep in the West versus the East because the East did not have similar problems to begin with so as a result, we’re catching up. We are trying to catch up from years ago that they didn’t keep up. So, therefore when you’re trying to catch up you can’t evenly progress because you’re already behind in the first place.”
Williams said the city has been working to revitalize the west side to equal the playing field, but the blame needed to fall on everyone involved, not just the city.
Johnston said he believed the council had the same goal of equally moving the city forward.
“When we have a sitting county commissioner attack us, I’ve got a problem with it,” Johnston said. “Now, I agree Mr. (Anthony) Henderson, you may not think it was meant to be personal, but it is for me. I live and sleep and breath this stuff and when I have a person get up and say we are not doing our part for this community… Granted, I’m a little angry right now. Granted, I need to probably sleep on it, but this deserves a response from the City of Covington. This cannot just stand like it’s no big deal.”
Councilman Kenneth Morgan said he paid a visit to Spillers Park Saturday and had the intention of bringing it up at the meeting Monday.
“Nobody as an elected official has any right to attack anybody,” he said. “Nobody from the city has a right to do it. Nobody from the county has a right to do it.”
Morgan said, as a county commissioner, J.C Henderson has the ability to make a change at the park if he wants to.
“At the end of the day, the community has to take action of responsibility for their own community,” he said. “It’s nobody’s responsibility to come in anybody’s community and revitalize it if they don’t show any interest at all.”
Morgan said in his three years on the council, J.C. Henderson has never reached out to him to do any type of project to revitalize the West Ward.
“Mr. Henderson, I’ve been here going into my third year. Mr. Henderson has never reached out to me to do any type of project and we both represent the West, but since his son has been here he’s been working with him, so my whole thing about it is: Why didn’t you just come to this council and say ‘Hey, let’s do a joint effort,’ or ‘What can we do to get this done?’ instead of pointing fingers at people. That is a low, degrading, deplorable thing to do as a county commissioner, as any elected official.”
Johnston asked the council to watch the video and let him know how the city should respond.