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Covington council pledges $30,000 'to help stabilize homeless efforts'
Donation made to Newton County despite concern over use of funds
storm damage1
Emergency workers stand outside the Rainbow Community Center off Turner Lake Road after a storm damaged the building Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. - photo by Special to The Covington News

COVINGTON, Ga. — More than one week after a confirmed EF1 tornado swept across the city Saturday, Oct. 10, ripping through Rainbow Community Shelter, the Covington City Council approved a resolution to donate $30,000 to assist with the aftermath.

The action to provide aid to Newton County for the local homeless shelter was approved with a 4-3 vote during the council’s regularly scheduled meeting Monday night, Oct. 19.

Horton said Newton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Marcello Banes reached out to him with the idea of making a donation.

“He was concerned with their ability to be able to fully meet the needs of those who are served right now,” he said. “It cannot be done right now because they have one building that is significantly damaged.”

Banes said the county had planned to donate $30,000 “to help stabilize homeless efforts,” according to Horton, and wanted the city to match.

“I told him that it wasn’t a decision I could make, but I could present something to (the council),” Horton said. “But I was very comfortable in that if you decided to do something … that you couldn’t just donate money to a private organization. It would have to go through the county, people would have to accept those funds as their own and be responsible for managing them.”

When making a donation was first proposed, Councilman Kenneth Morgan was first to voice his approval.

“I think we would not be good neighbors and good citizens if we didn’t step up to the plate since the county’s already on board with doing this (and) not help our fellow citizens in this time of need,” Morgan said. “That’s just who we are and what we should always continue to do.”

Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams agreed with Morgan and also said it would honor the legacy of the late Sam Ramsey. Ramsey is a former mayor and businessman of Covington who died Tuesday, Aug. 25. He played an instrumental role in the development of Rainbow Community Shelter.

“That was his baby, you might say,” Williams said. “In honor of him, I would love for us to do that.”

Councilwoman Susie Keck and others voiced concerns about the donation.

“I understand we can’t write a check to the homeless shelter,” Keck said. “Can we right a check for materials for rehabbing the homeless shelter rather than writing a check to the county?”

Horton said no — cutting a check for materials would fall under the same umbrella as writing a check for a private business or organization.

City Attorney Frank Turner Jr. suggested either donating funds to the county or to the Covington Housing Authority, which is the shelter’s landlord.

“I would just like to know it goes there,” Keck said.

Horton said the council could “certainly” request a report of how the money is used, “but once you donate it to the county, it’s theirs.”

Councilman Anthony Henderson had similar concerns saying if a donation is made, it needed to “actually” go toward “stabilizing homelessness.”

Horton said funding could be used for “providing food, bedding — whatever the need.” He said it was likely that insurance would cover the rehabilitation of the damaged building.

“I mean I want to help, no doubt. I just want to make sure the $30,000 is used responsibly,” Henderson said.

Keck said how the money is spent was “a real issue.”

“I’ve had many people in the community talk about funds and how they’re — I don’t even want to talk about what I’ve heard. But I have an issue giving $30,000 and not knowing where it’s going,” she said.

Keck’s concern was not with the county’s handling of the funds, but rather the shelter’s officials.

“The person over the shelter isn’t going to get the money either,” Morgan said.

“(Horton) just said we — he — didn’t know how it would be used,” Keck said.

“Well, I mean, if we gave it to the county, however the county chooses to disperse it, we should be honored,” Morgan said.

“Yeah, but I want to know that it’s dispersed for the right cause, because monies that go to some of these shelters do not actually go to the actual people needing it,” Keck said. “(There’s mishandling of) funds all the time, and I just don’t want to be a part of it.”

When it came to a vote, Henderson, Morgan and Williams voted in favor of making the donation.

Keck, Councilman Don Floyd and Councilwoman Fleeta Baggett were opposed to making the donation. They each said they wanted to be given more information first.

Horton then broke the tie by voting in favor of making the donation.

Once the decision was final, Williams spoke further about her stance on donating.

“When I see people panhandling … once it leaves my hand, I think it’s on them as to what they do with it,” Williams said. “But I’ve done my part (to help that person)… You’re doing the right thing by helping that person. To be concerned about all the negotiations and all of the ramifications of what they’re going to do with it, I don’t think we should be concerned about that.”

“I would feel the same way as you do if I was making the donation,” Floyd said. “But this is the taxpayers’ money.”

Horton ended the night by speaking further about the community’s response after the storm.

“It was chaos there at one point,” Horton said. “But you know, God was good to everybody out there that day, because we had nobody seriously injured. That’s the No. 1 thing. You can replace the property and do a lot of things to accommodate. But all the folks out there, they were highly effective and efficient in restoring order.

“I’ve heard it said many times that real leaders lead from the front,” he continued. “Everybody out there was a leader. They were leading from the front; they weren’t worried about anything but making the situation better, and so I appreciate that and the efforts of everyone.

“We had the community on their feet that day, to take care of what needed to be done,” Horton concluded. “And I’m proud to live in a community where people care that way and do the things that need to be done in a competent way when it’s required and in a passionate way when it’s required.”