COVINGTON, Ga. – The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to approve Chairman Marcello Banes’ final appointments to the Newton County Recreation Commission Tuesday after severing the vote from the meeting’s consent agenda and a 45-minute debate.
The debate included a discussion of gender equity, two commissioners admitting they did not know what they were voting for when they voted to approve a new NCRC resolution last month and a threat by Banes to exercise his veto power for the first time when a motion to table the vote was made.
District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz moved to sever the vote on the new NCRC board members from the consent agenda. After Schulz’s motion passed 4-1, the vote was added to the meeting agenda. District 5 Commissioner Ronnie Cowan was the dissenting vote.
Cowan explained his “no” vote when the vote was reached on the agenda.
“This was taken off the consent agenda and I voted against that and I just wanted to explain why,” he said. “All of the appointments that we’ve made before have all been done through the consent agenda. I don’t know why this particular one was pulled out for exception. I don’t think it’s right to discuss people who are volunteering to participate in a voluntary job for the county in a public discussion so that’s why I voted against taking it off the agenda and I just wanted everybody to understand that.”
Schulz explained her reasons for asking for a separate vote.
“I’m not going to discuss any one particular person,” she said. “I’m discussing it in terms of the entire process. For various reasons, this is not what I understood when we came up with the resolution that we adopted on March 20. It’s not what I envisioned as we prepared that document. It’s gotten several different revisions. I voted in favor of the resolution and I understand where we are now.
“As a female and a former athlete who played tennis at the University of Tennessee before Title IX was fully implemented, we had an opportunity to show the girls in Newton County that we value parity. I could not be happier with the selection of the female that’s on this slate, however, only one of nine members on this board is female. It’s 2018 and we are not showing that we value parity and so I have a problem with that.”
Banes said he had appointed a woman to the NCRC board and had also asked the City of Covington for the name of a woman to appoint.
“So it’s not like I’m not trying to get to get females on there,” he said.
Schulz responded, “At this point, we don’t have the City of Covington. What we have to vote on does not show parity.”
District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards also voiced concern about the resolution approved last month by commissioners.
“I too voted for this resolution two weeks ago with the understanding that the Newton County Board of Commissioners and the Covington City Council would have total autonomy in the appointment of their liaison members.
Edwards read from Article III, Section I of a resolution that reestablished the NCRC.
“Effective April 1, 2018, the Newton County Board of Commissioners will appoint one commissioner or citizen to serve as a liaison member and the City of Covington will recommend the appointment of one…”
Edwards said the language in the resolution was not what he thought it would be.
“That reads that this commission has appointment power and the City of Covington only has, or has, recommendation,” he said. “The way I understood the resolution was both bodies had total autonomy in their liaison appointments to Rec Board.
“Shame on me for not taking the literal sense, understanding this resolution in its literal sense, in the way it was written. The way it was explained was both bodies would have total autonomy. Now I’ve got to live with the way that I voted. So be it, But if that’s the way we’re going to leave it, if that’s the way it’s going to be, this resolution is ambiguous.
Edwards made a motion to table the vote for two weeks. The motion was quickly seconded by Schulz.
District 2 Commissioner Lanier Sims also voiced concern with the language in the resolution.
“I agree with both Commissioner Edwards and Commissioner Schulz. When we first started this process, we thought that both the county and city had an appointment,” he said. “Now, if you go back and look at the old resolution, the city did not have true autonomy in being able to appoint, they could recommend.
“We thought that they would be able to appoint through this process and that gave me the biggest heartburn of this whole resolution was what we thought and what we got were not exactly what we wanted. I’ve got no problem with the appointments from the Chairman to the board, I just wish we could have cleaned that little bit of language up.”
Banes said the issue needed to be resolved.
“Myself, Commissioner (J.C.) Henderson and Commissioner Edwards weren’t involved with this resolution at all,” he said. “We had no input in it, we had no say so in it. It was prepared by Commissioner Cowan. It was approved before it was brought out to the board by Commissioner Schulz and Commissioner Sims. Commissioner Cowan sat right here and went through the whole resolution and you guys voted to approve it. You know, to keep this thing going on, to keep it in the newspaper, it doesn’t do anybody any good.”
Banes questioned what the issues were. He also threatened a veto.
“The issue is not that there’s not another female,” he said. “I’m telling you, I’m going to be transparent. I’m not going to hide anything. The issue is that I’m appointing Mr. Flemmie (Pitts) back to the board.
“The reason I’m going to appoint him back to the board, let me just make the record very clear, there’s nobody in this county or this community that spends more time over at that rec. department than Flemmie Pitts. Not even the former director. There’s nobody in this community that spends more time over there with those kids than Mr. Flemmie Pitts .That’s why putting him back on that board because that board needs wisdom. I’m going to veto it. If you want take it off, I’m going to veto it tonight.”
Schulz said she thought Covington would have an appointment. She echoed Edwards’ sentiments about not fully understanding what she was voting for.
“I was under the impression when we sent our last revisions that the City of Covington would have appointment authority. We sent those last revisions. We got back a copy. It did not have red lines or a red insert. Shame on me for not reading that language more carefully. I take full responsibility for not reading that more carefully. I’m not saying I’m going to overturn the resolution, I’m just saying it’s not what I envisioned when I voted on the resolution.
“I hate to think that every time we send revisions, or we send something around, that we have to read every single word and interpret every single word. That’s exceedingly difficult. I take that responsibility for misunderstanding.”
Cowan explained the changes to the resolution.
“The thing that applies today that seems to be causing everybody heartburn was the final draft that I had done said that the Newton County commission will appoint one commissioner or citizen to serve as a liaison and the City of Covington would appoint one councilmember or citizen as liaison. That was my final draft. That was not reviewed by the county attorney or the city attorney” he said.
“The county attorney was instructed to discuss this with the city attorney. They both concluded that the better language is what was put into the resolution, which says that the county has the authority to appoint a commissioner to serve as liaison member and the City of Covington can recommend the appointment of a councilmember or citizen to serve as liaison.
“That’s the final recommendation of counsel which I strongly encourage to follow because they’re the ones more attuned to these types of things than we are.”
Cowan said, “I want everybody to understand. We did our best to follow exactly what the City of Covington’s attorney recommended and what our attorney recommended in this document. Now that may not be what everybody expected. This county, for whatever reason, has had a history of no matter what the rules are they’re going to do what they want to do anyway.”
Edwards’ motion to table the vote failed by a 2-3 vote with Sims, Henderson and Cowan voting against it.
The new members, Alcovy High football coach Chris Edgar, Newton High girls’ basketball coach Tiffani Johnson, Pitts , Sims as county liaison and member emeritus Johnny Presley were approved by a 3-2 vote with Edwards and Schulz casting the dissenting votes.