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Fireworks likely at county meeting
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Tuesday’s Newton County Board of Commissioners meeting should be an interesting one, particularly since leaders of the county’s African-American community expect hundreds of people to show up to defend District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson.

Henderson’s financial powers and membership on the recreation and Nelson Heights Community Center boards were removed from him in a 4-1 vote at the last commissioners’ meeting. Pastor W.J. Smith of the Newton County Ministers’ Union says dozens of people are expected to ask to speak in his defense at the beginning of the meeting.

Also expected to attend Tuesday’s meeting are state Sen. Rick Jeffares and state Rep. Pam Dickerson. Both may speak about the proposed Community Improvement District, which, although entirely in the city limits of Covington, requires county approval as well. A CID allows businesses along a designated stretch of road (in this case U.S. 278) to levy a tax on themselves for beautification and sidewalk improvements.

It requires 50 percent plus one of the area’s business owners, controlling 75 percent of the assessed valuation of the land, to approve the district for it to become reality. It also requires approval by the county’s state legislative delegation. Normally, a CID is approved at the state level if the delegation agrees it’s a good idea.

A separate item also requiring the delegation’s approval would be a complete re-working of the county’s form of government. It’s not clear if the decision at the commissioners’ last meeting to reduce Chairman Keith Ellis’ powers and place them in the hands of new County Manager Tom Garrett requires state permission. Smith said speakers will also defend Ellis during the public comment section of the meeting.

The agenda also includes a discussion of The Center for Community Preservation and Planning. The Center was responsible for the 2050 Plan and the baseline ordinances that control it. Last month, commissioners voted to fold the baseline ordinances into the county’s planning department, a move that caused Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston to ask the City Council to consider stopping payments to the Center for its work on the ordinances.

The 2050 Plan’s cost has been split three ways by the county, Covington and the Water and Sewer Authority, with Oxford adding a few thousand dollars. It’s not clear what will happen to the Center if city funding is withheld.

The commissioners’ meeting starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the courthouse.