By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Local residents continue fight to be heard in county manager decision
Annette Alston
Annette Alston, president of the Trelawney Homeowners Association speaks on behalf of the Concerned Citizens of Newton County in a press conference called by the group before last Tuesday's Board of Commissioners meeting that confirmed new county manager Harold Cooper's contract. - photo by Gabriel Stovall

COVINGTON, Ga. — While the Newton County Board of Commissioners was gearing up to approve contract and salary of new county manager, Harold Cooper, Annette Alston was still fighting another battle. 

Admittedly, it was a battle that seemed destined to be pegged as a losing effort. Alston, the Trelawney Home Owner’s Association president, had called a press conference on the steps of the old Newton County courthouse just 90 minutes before the Board was set to convene. 

Her aim? To continue trying to conjure up a groundswell that would lead to a rescinding of Cooper as Newton County manager and a subsequent reconsideration of Washington D.C. Deputy Mayor Lucinda Babers to fill that seat. 

To be sure, it’s an uphill battle. Commissioners Ronnie Cowan, Stan Edwards and Demond Mason had their heels firmly dug in to select Cooper during the meeting that cinched his appointment. Only Edwards provided something in the way of explanation as to why the Board’s one-vote majority — Commissioners J.C. Henderson and Alana Sanders voted against Cooper’s appointment in favor of Babers — rested on the Human Resources specialist from Henry County. 

Edwards said it was about “demeanor,” and Cooper’s experience navigating a county similar in makeup to that of Newton County through growth pangs and economic boom. Alston said the resumes alone tell the story. Babers is clearly more qualified, she maintains. 

“Harold Cooper, it looks like, because he’s only had human resource experience — he hasn’t even hired anyone before — it looks like this is a stepping stone to get this position under his belt and to maybe move somewhere else,” Alston said. 

She referenced former interim county manager Jarvis Sims who, after spending one year in his interim position, moved on to become city manager in Greensboro, Georgia. 

“His time here was disappointing,” Alston said of Sims’ brief tenure. “He got poor evaluations, and he barely made it out to the meetings. You saw the list of items included in a county manager’s duties. He was clearly not fulfilling any of that, but yet, it seems he used this position to get that position somewhere else. And we just don’t want to see something like that happen again.” 

Before these comments, Alston spoke to a crowd of about 25 Newton County residents who were perched on the steps of the courthouse, some — like Alston — donning their black and white “Concerned Citizens of Newton County” t-shirts. Alston said this was the beginning of a “movement to let Ms. Babers know that we want her here.” 

But more than that, Alston said that even if that effort fell short, the secondary goal of making their voices heard could be considered a win as well. 

“The only win in this is just the awareness of people about what’s going on here,” she said. “We want people to see that the way these kinds of selections are made, that there’s a problem here. And come election time, we want people to remember this so that they make the right decisions and get these people out of office.” 

Before the May 2 presser and county commissioners meeting that followed, Alston said that their efforts had garnered “about 300 petition signatures,” between both online and hard copy signers. After the press conference, the BOC voted to confirm Cooper’s contract with details provided in the meeting. 

And while a good share of Cooper supporters came out to voice their pleasure for his appointment, it didn’t deter Alston and others from continuing to speak out in opposition. Ultimately, regardless of who comes into that office, Alston believes that there needs to be more of an attempt by commissioners to not just hear what residents are saying, but also speak their own peace in a way that answers residents’ questions. 

Alston said she did get the chance to speak with Cowan after the meeting that first confirmed Cooper into the county manager position. She said she also tried to talk with Mason after that meeting but he “refused to talk to me.” 

There has been some unconfirmed talk that one of the other reasons why Babers wasn’t considered was because of an expressed desire to split time working between Covington and the nation’s capital. Though no one has confirmed that, Alston said that, if true, then concerns would be warranted. 

“That’s a fair assertion,” she said. “If, in fact, she had not committed to moving here and living here, but if that were the case, then why won’t the commissioners just say that? They could just say that. If they did, we probably wouldn’t be here right now if they would’ve just said that up front.” 

Still, Alston maintains that her concerns are not personal against Cooper. Rather, just the latest in a long line of ways she, and those she represents, believes some of the county’s government is mismanaging things. 

“This isn’t the last bad decision they’ll make,” Alston said. “And, so, this is a way of documenting, if nothing else. When people start talking about what they want to do and how they say they want to serve us, we can say, ‘This is what you actually did. This is your track record. This is why we’re not putting you all back in office.’”