COVINGTON, Ga. - Newton County Chairman Marcello Banes has removed Josh McKelvey and Steven Rhodes from the Newton County Recreation Commission board, according to correspondence dated Jan. 31.
This comes after a Jan. 9 letter from Banes announcing his intent to remove all of the NCRC board members that voted in-favor of terminating then Recreation Director Anthony Avery. In that letter, Banes requested a written response from the board members to present their case.
Rhodes responded Jan. 15 stating that he had no prior knowledge of the county’s hearing procedure or instruction from the county’s legal or human resources staff. McKelvey responded Jan. 25 raising concerns about Banes’ authority to remove him among other concerns.
“While I sincerely appreciate the points you have expressed in your letter, I have decided to remove you for the reasons stated in my previous letter and further explained below,” Banes wrote in the letter addressed to McKelvey.
Both McKelvey and Rhodes will be given the opportunity to appeal the removal decision to the Newton County Board of Commissioners at 3 p.m. Feb. 6. The BOC will have the ability to vote on the decision at that time.
McKelvey provided the following statement to The Covington News regarding the removal:
“In my short time as an elected official, it has become apparent we should choose our battles carefully. As elected officials, we should make every effort to do our best to ensure our community is not divided and bring unity through working to make sure the community we serve is reflected positively.
“My intention since the news broke regarding the firing of Director Anthony Avery by the Newton County Recreation Commission was to keep from taking part in the apparent circus this issue has become. Recent events have made silence no longer an option regarding the decision made by myself and other members of the Recreation Board.
“My personal goal in serving on the NCRC Board has always been, and will continue to be, to represent the citizens and taxpayers first and foremost. Another priority is to be open and transparent with the citizens. Due to the private nature of the matter, and the controversy surrounding it, it has been my intention to not open up the board or county to any further scrutiny. With these things considered the time has come time for me to defend myself and the position I took when I decided to vote to terminate Director Anthony Avery.
“The fact is, the board was presented with information in an executive session that overwhelmingly convinced all five voting members in attendance that night to vote for Mr. Anothy’s termination. Any claims that my vote was motivated by anything other than the information presented to the Newton Country Recreation Commission are purely false. This vote included different people from different backgrounds who all saw this as the right decision. I cannot express to the citizens how heavy this finding weighed on each member of the board. From this experience, I can tell you that it is a difficult decision to remove someone from their paid position, but the investigation that was done in the weeks proceeding the meeting that night left us feeling as if we had no other choice.
“The day after having voted to part ways with Mr. Avery I was informed that the Newton County Recreation Commission failed to follow Newton County Human Resource Procedures related to terminating an employee with “Civil Servant” classification. Until this point, it was not made clear by the county that this precluded Mr. Avery from being terminated without going through the process of a 90-day personal performance review. My understanding the night of the vote was that this was “suggested” by the county, but it was never made clear to myself, or others on the board, that by not going through this process we would potentially open up the county and recreation commission to litigation.
“Since the time of this decision, the NCRC has been under scrutiny for not following procedures that were not appropriately communicated by the county. In my opinion, much of this examination has gone in the wrong direction. While the BOC has attempted to avoid litigation by going into negotiations with the terminated employee, there has been minimal scrutiny of the gross negligence of the employee's actions, and a rush to convict the Newton County Recreation Commission Members of wrongdoing in the eyes of the public. Let me assure the citizens that this termination was justified and the evidence overwhelmingly indicated that Mr. Avery’s dismissal was the best decision for the citizens, taxpayers and children who participate in the program.
“Shortly after the vote, members that voted to remove Mr. Avery were targeted by the county chairman for removal from the board. These actions could set a dangerous precedent that may not be legal or in the best interest of the county. By removing so many from this board, the chairman is taking away years of experience and knowledge that is integral to the efficient operation of the recreational services to the community. The legality of this move may be decided in the court of law as well, which would conceivably cost the county even more in legal costs. It may also send the wrong message to the recreation commission employees that brought forth the complaints that led to the formation of an investigative committee by the Recreation Commission Chairman Danny Stone.
“This week, on Feb. 1, Chairman Banes notified me via certified mail that he had decided to remove me from my appointed position as the representative of the City of Covington on the NCRC, and that we could appeal his decision in front of the Board of Commissioners at a special called meeting at 3 p.m. on Feb. 6. I believe that this a far overreach of what the verbiage of the charter that created the Newton County Recreation Commission intended. In the charter it states that the City of Covington will “furnish” a voting member to the NCRC. The City of Covington decided in 2016 to honor me with this appointment. Upon legal counsel, I have been advised that the Chairman has no authority to remove my appointment. My term does not expire until 2021, and I hope to continue to move the NCRC from where it has been in the past to a state of excellence that we can all be proud of.
“In closing, let me be clear that I believe that my continuation to serve the citizens by being a part of the NCRC is imperative to ensure that we no longer face the problems that have been issues in the past. I intend to defend my integrity and not allow my service and motivations to be smeared for political purposes. With my motion on the night of Nov. 27, I know I did what was right for our community. I acknowledge that the procedures that should have been followed were not, but I believe that the county should have provided this information via email the night of our meeting, and not relied on advising only certain members with this knowledge. “