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Newton County commissioners select Harold Cooper as County Manager
Commissioner Stan Edwards says Cooper's 'demeanor' helped win him over
Harold Cooper
Harold Cooper (Special | Henry County government)

COVINGTON, Ga. — The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to select Henry County Human Resources director Harold Cooper as the sole finalist to become the next county manager. 

Cooper was chosen over Washington, D.C., Deputy Mayor Lucinda Babers — who lost out for a Newton County position for a second time after being passed over in favor of Jarvis Sims for the interim county manager position in 2022. 

Sims was chosen for a one-year term in the interim position while the Board searched for someone to fill the permanent position. His contract ended March 6 and he’s since moved on to become city manager in Greensboro.

Commissioners Ronnie Cowan, Stan Edwards and Demond Mason voted in favor of Cooper’s appointment, while Commissioners Alana Sanders and J.C. Henderson dissented.

Edwards acknowledged Babers’ vast qualifications, but also stated reasons why he believed Cooper was a better fit for the position. 

“I felt Mr. Cooper had a couple of factors in his favor,” Edwards said. “One was his demeanor. We have great department heads, so it will be absolutely imperative that he establish their goals, coach them, and allow them to manage. I believe he can facilitate that environment and his interaction with the department heads will be key.”

Additionally, Edwards said he believes Cooper’s experiences in Henry County — a county comparable in size and growth trajectory to Newton — showed that Cooper has what it takes to help navigate Newton County through what is sure to be a steady set of growing pains. 

“(Cooper) currently works in a county of similar size in our part of the state,” Edwards said. “With similar growth already experienced in that county, he has been through some of the fires we are now, and will be, experiencing. The hope is he can lead us through those.” 

Meanwhile, Cooper’s Tuesday night appointment drew the ire of District 3 Commissioner Alana Sanders who opened the discussion of the agenda item by running down the long list of Babers’ accomplishments — everything from her current position as Washington, D.C. Deputy Mayor of Operations and Infrastructure to her work as Senior Director of Operations and Project Manager at Amtrak and her multiple college degrees. 

“That experience alone, including just her degrees,” Sanders said. “I’ve never spoken to this woman but in interviews, but looking at her research, and also what our HR director sent to us, I was impressed that she said it didn’t matter if she did a year-to-year contract. That lets me know that she’s ready to come in and work. 

"In her interview, she came in telling us exactly what we wanted. I asked her the question specifically if she had grant writing experience, and she said yes, and I also did the research and found out that, yes, she is a grant writer.” 

After that statement, Sanders then made a motion to select Babers as the county government’s new manager, with Henderson providing the second. There was no further discussion before the board voted 3-2 against it with  Edwards, Cowan and Mason providing the dissenting votes. 

Banes asked twice for another motion to put on the floor, and that’s when Cowan made a motion to appoint Cooper. That motion was seconded by Mason which prompted Sanders to make one last appeal for Babers. 

“Again, looking at the experience, it’s nothing against Mr. Cooper,” Sanders said. “He only has HR experience. Also I’m aware that some people have personal relationships and directors. That’s my only issue. Ms. Babers knows no one on this board. She can come into this county non-biased and move forward, and work with every commissioner on this ‘horseshoe' evenly because she doesn’t know neither one of us.” 

Sanders then also raised speculation that refusal to select Babers may have been racially and gender motivated. 

“I heard in the community, whether it’s true or not, that y'all don’t want another educated Black woman,” Sanders continued. “So I pray. I pray that’s not what’s happening today.” 

Edwards dropped and shook his head at that assertion, and without further discussion, Cowan, Edwards and Mason voted in favor of Cooper’s appointment with Sanders and Henderson dissenting. 

Later, in an emailed response to follow-up questions, Edwards called Babers “a fine candidate” and, while choosing not to give specifics, stated there was a particular question that he felt Cooper answered in a “more acceptable” manner than Babers did. 

When asked if he could clarify what that question and answer was, Edwards stated he would rather not, so as to preserve Babers’ candidacy “for other positions she may be in the running for.” 

Commissioners Mason and Cowan were both asked for comment regarding Cooper’s appointment, but as of print edition press time, neither commissioner had responded to requests for comment.

The result was not a popular one for several residents, including Annette Alston, who corroborated some of Sanders’ concerns. 

“You had an opportunity to seat an apparent world class administrator for the position of county manager,” Alston said. “Cooper may be a nice guy. I don’t know. I’ve never met him. Never met Babers. But you have some explaining to do on this one, because I don’t think Newton County residents are going to sit idly by while you disrespect this management position. 

“The residents certainly deserve more than what Cooper has in comparison to Babers. What’s the point of even submitting resumes if the qualifications don’t matter?”

Alston also addressed Edwards’ reaction to Sanders’ assertion of the Board not wanting another educated Black woman connected to it. 

“I guess you thought that was inflammatory,” Alston said. “But when the media shines light on these two sets of qualifications, what have you done, or will you do, to dispel that thought?” 

County resident Howard Griggs also suggested that the Board was “scared” of appointing Babers to the board. 

“(Babers) was way more qualified than (Cooper), but some of you chose to ignore that,” Griggs said. “I think you guys are scared of that.” 

Discussion aside, the next steps in the process simply call for Cooper to accept the position and then select a start date. 

Originally from Miami, Florida, Cooper has been a resident of Conyers for the last 13 years. He has 22 years of experience in the public sector with 12 of those years serving in various HR roles in work environments that range from government to independent school districts, according to the Henry County government website. 

Babers also has Georgia ties, having earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech. 

The Covington News awaits response from an open records request filed Wednesday with the County for Cooper's contract information.