Commissioner J.C. Henderson’s decision to try to get Newton County cut off from federal funding has angered leaders around the community.
In an interview on Thursday, Henderson said he realized calling for an end to federal funding was drastic, but he felt his district has been treated unfairly and something had to be done.
"It used to be that we let the commissioner in the district take the lead on projects. However, if there is going to be a difference between the way districts are treated, then maybe we need to sit down and work things out," Henderson said. "Everything in District 4 has always been a 3-2 vote. I’ve always had to work like hell for everything in my district. It should not be that way."
Henderson has long complained about the Board of Commissioner’s handling of the Nelson Heights Community Center, but he stepped up those complaints earlier this month. On Nov. 3 Henderson sent a letter to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, questioning the county’s handling of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.
"And the Board of Commissioners is doing whatever it takes, to make sure the district commissioner in District 3 gets whatever they (want), so the people in Fairview will go along with the program," Henderson said in the letter. "While over in district 4, the Board of Commissioners don’t want J.C. Henderson, or any one in the community, to have anything to do with their community center."
He asked that the Fairview community be told what the NSP money can be used for, be given more details about the public park and that county citizens be told if they will be required to pay for the park in the future.
"We (believe) that the Newton County Board of Commissioners have (a) double standard," Henderson wrote. "In closing we are asking that we be given a number at the Federal level to ask that all Federal grants be (stopped) until Newton County proves that we don’t’ have a double standard in doing (things) for (our) community in Newton County."
On Thursday, Henderson said he initially called Glenn Misner, DCA’s director of field services, because of all the NSP-related complaints Henderson has received. However, Henderson said Misner said that he needed the complaints in writing in short notice, which is why Henderson quickly hand wrote the letter.
On Thursday, Henderson was also going around the county handing out a letter of complaint written by neighborhood activist Latricia Jones-Smith. Jones has also long complained about the county’s handling of the NSP and accused the non-profit group IECDG, the NSP manager, of improper conduct in the letter.
District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz, whose district contains Fairview Estates, said the letter was reckless because Henderson did not have all of the facts. Henderson was late to a Nov. 3 work session about the NSP, and Schulz said he missed important parts of the presentation from Fairview Estates residents and the non-profit partner IECDG.
"I think what really is really unfortunate in his letter is that he addresses the fact that he wants to stop all federal funding," said Schulz, who said county agencies probably receive between $25 million and $50 million in federal grants each year.
"It’s really unfortunate to stop money from coming to the county because of misinformation or someone tying to look after the needs of special interest. Can you imagine if we lose that funding?"
The letter was addressed to Glenn Misner, DCA’s director of field services, who replied with a Nov. 9 letter to Chairman Kathy Morgan. The letter said the DCA does not get involved in local cases until all local remedies have been exhausted.
He letter also gave the county 30 days from Nov. 9 to reply to the DCA and address the concerns listed in Henderson’s letter. On Thursday, Henderson said he did not receive a direct reply and is still looking for a federal number to call.
Morgan said Tuesday that attorney Jenny Carter and Senior Planner Scott Sirotkin, who has worked extensively with the NSP, are drafting a reply. She said no reply will be given to Henderson.
"I do personally have a problem with an individual commissioner, regardless of who it is, trying to derail the county," she said. "You have to ask, is this in the best interest of the county?"
The disagreement started when Henderson requested county funding for the center and said it was going to be run by a 501(c)3 board of directors. After review of the project’s history, Morgan said previously that the formation of a 501(c)3 board was never authorized by the BOC.
The commissioners also had disagreements about the services the community center would provide. Henderson said this treatment was unfair, because the county had previously approved non-profit boards to run facilities like Gaither’s Plantation.
A NHCC work session was planned for Tuesday night, but Morgan said it had been cancelled because community leaders, including Henderson, had requested more time.
However, Henderson said he never requested the meeting be cancelled and said he had hundreds of residents waiting to come to that meeting. The work session has not yet been rescheduled.