As we get set for another episode of “As the County Commissioners World Turns” — aka, the bi-weekly BOC meetings — I’ve had a hard time putting to rest in my mind what happened at the last one.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before — there was drama surrounding grant writing and youth facilities that dominated much of the discussion two Tuesdays ago. Lately, these meetings have had more of a reality TV feel than a tenor of constructive problem solving.
In fact, the tension between the county’s board in its last meeting — which resulted in multiple moments where Chairman Marcello Banes called for commissioners to stop interrupting others who were speaking — became intense enough that Banes adjourned the meeting without taking a vote on agenda item 12D where District 3 Commissioner Alana Sanders sought board approval to apply for grants.
Sanders asked for board permission to work with the county’s recently-appointed iParametrics for grant writing consultation services to apply for grants from Sen. Raphael Warnock and Sen. John Ossoff’s offices, presumably for the hotly contested Westside Youth Facility. Each grant was for upwards of $5 million.
“I’m doing it properly this time so nobody can say I didn’t ask,” Sanders said, referring to the pushback she received from applying for a $4 million grant from Congressman Hank Johnson’s office.
Despite that, Sanders’ motion failed 3-2 with her and Commissioner J.C. Henderson being the two voting in favor. Banes said he preferred the board allow iParametrics consultant Shannon Kennedy to work directly with interim county manager Jarvis Sims.
“Since we’ve got Kennedy on board for searching for grants, I think we need to just authorize her to, once we see grants come across, to present those grants to our county manager and let the county manager work with Ms. Kennedy to pursue those grants,” Banes said.
Sanders’ rebuffed that notion, with concern that such a process would cause a delay that would result in the board missing the March 7 and March 10 deadlines for the grants that, according to Sanders, could be as much as $5 million.
“The time is now to move forward,” Sanders said.
Sims said he wanted to make sure it was known that the grants in question were designed for larger scaled projects than what would likely be done in a singular district.
“Based on the email that we did receive from Sen. Ossoff’s office, these are projects that are more county wide,” Sims said. “While we all know each district has unique needs, we might want to look at a project that benefits the entire county.”
The back-and-forth tenor of the meeting actually started during agenda item No. 4 when Sanders wanted to add discussion of the Westside Youth Facility to the agenda. But the discussion pushback centered around the fact that the board would have to begin again in looking for a location for the facility.
“I’m trying to understand, if staff hasn’t had the chance to go back and find additional locations, why are we wanting to discuss it,” District 2 Commissioner Demond Mason asked.
Jaugstetter mentioned to the board that of the three former potential locations, one was voted down and two were withdrawn by the sites’ owners, to which Sanders asked what the next step was in finding a site.
Jaugstetter said it wouldn’t be necessary for the board to vote for the staff to commence looking for a new site. That directive would come from Sims.
That vote went 3-2 against amending the agenda for discussion of the youth facility with Henderson and Sanders voting in favor of it, and seemed to be a tone setter for the evening.
After Sanders’ second motion seeking permission to apply for a grant failed, Banes called for a new motion to allow for the Sims-and-Kennedy grant writing arrangement, while warning that he’d adjourn the meeting immediately if there were any more interruptions.
There were more interruptions.
Some commotion and side talk regarding all commissioners not voting ensued, and Banes adjourned the meeting without voting on the new motion or any further discussion on the Ossoff and Warnock grants.
And that’s the truly frustrating part. Because the BOC members — elected officials voted for by the people whom they’re supposed to serve — couldn’t get it together in the face of disagreement, matters pertinent to potential community progress were left undone.
While the fussing and feuding about who should write the grants permeated, the irony is it was all for naught because now — given the deadlines for those grants — there likely won’t be any forward-moving action taken there because of the deadlines.
“I’ve been here for a while, and I’m trying to understand why its it that we can’t come together on a few million dollars, and we spend millions of dollars all over this county, for kids in an underserved area to have a decent playground,” Henderson said. “We’ve got one everywhere else. City Pond, Turner Lake. The one over in District Two, I was the one who named it Denny Dobbs. So why is it that we can’t do something over in District 3 for those kids. They need it. Kids are killing each other every day, and we’re sitting back here doing nothing.”
Whether or not you consider yourself a fan of Henderson, you can’t deny that there’s truth in what he said. The combative nature of some of our most recent BOC meetings has done more to raise questions and concerns than it has to settle them.
And because of how the cattiness persisted during the Feb. 21 meeting — resulting in the cancellation of the aforementioned agenda items — it’s clear that the BOC’s inability to discuss matters with civility has begun to take a direct toll on the citizens of Newton County.
When the inability to be civil starts robbing the citizens of the county of opportunities to let their voices be heard in the only real public forum they have to discuss issues and sound off on matters that directly impact their quality of life, it’s time for something to change. Whether or not that change means newly elected people in those seats is something the people of Newton County will get to decide at the appropriate time.
Until then, I hope the ones who currently occupy those seats can begin to consider their ways a little more closely and realize that, while it can be frustrating to not see advancement for causes you’re passionate about, the increase in vitriol amongst the board isn’t helping anyone.
It isn’t helping get the youth facility built. It isn’t helping streamline the grant writing processes. And it definitely isn’t helping the citizens of Newton County feel comfortable and confident in their board’s ability to do what’s best for their interests.
Enough of the finger pointing, combativeness and dissension. There’s absolutely nothing “One Newton-ish” about what’s been happening with our board over the last few months. And while there’s so much more that could be said about the issues creating all the angst, I think, in this space, a simple, succinct, two-word admonition to our board is most appropriate.
Black, white, left leaning, right leaning. It doesn’t matter. Do better. You owe it to yourselves, and you owe it to the people of Newton County — the ones whom you promised to serve.
Gabriel Stovall is the Publisher and editor of The Covington News. He can be reached at email@example.com.