The Newton County Board of Commissioners simply crushed Commissioner J.C. Henderson Tuesday night, stripping him of all financial powers and forcing him off the boards of the Nelson Heights Community Center and the Recreation Commission.
Commissioner Nancy Schulz made the complex motion near the end of Tuesday’s meeting, officially removing Henderson from all boards with “fiduciary,” or financial, power, demanding his removal from the Nelson Heights board (he was the chairman) and the Recreation Board, rescinding approval for six small parks in Henderson's district, re-keying the locks to the recreation center’s doors, and, initially, calling for the dissolution of the center’s entire board of directors.
The latter was removed at Commissioner John Douglas’ suggestion, but the remainder passed 4-1, with Henderson obviously against.
Henderson was visibly stunned. Last week, he requested and received from Commission Chairman Keith Ellis a check for $4,500 to help send his son to college. There was a clear precedent for such paycheck advances, although County Attorney W. Thomas Craig has said they may violate the state constitution’s gratuities clause. Henderson paid the loan back in 10 days, rather than in $85 increments in 52 weeks as called for in the paperwork originally filed.
Schulz accused Henderson of violating the commission’s code of ethics and his oath of office. She also decried mismanagement at Nelson Heights.
“My understanding is the board has not met” in a long time, she said. “Right now the board is not functioning.”
Henderson fired back that he was “not fined or locked up for anything, or convicted of a felony or anything” for the check. “This is personal.”
“Truly, anything we have done in the community with people of color, she (Schulz) has been against,” Henderson said. “She has really just been a nightmare to me … She wanted her friend to get elected (over Henderson) but she didn’t get elected. J.C. Henderson did.
“There is no basis for me to step down from any board.” No crime was committed with the check, he said, “not even an ethical crime. It’s all Commissioner Schulz.”
Commissioner Levie Maddox tried to soften the blow, saying that Henderson could perhaps work for boards with financial responsibility in the future, but Henderson would have none of that.
“If I did something ethically wrong, there should be some minutes (from previous meetings proving that), and there are none,” he said.
Schulz added that she believed “tonight we have begun the process of taking action on the breach of public trust. To fully restore public confidence, we as a board were completely transparent and believe the event of Commissioner Henderson’s cash advance is fully investigated. If we have nothing to hide we should welcome investigations.”
Henderson said he was just disappointed in everything: “We used to be a group of caring people.
“We live in strange times. I guess you are guilty because of the simple fact that you may not agree with the same ideas that some do and the way you believe … The good news is — I got some good news out of all this — The Lord I serve is the one who sits up high; He knows each of us better than we know ourselves. He is a just God. What I’m saying is that it’s not for me to punish or condemn or accuse; it’s for Him to give out the punishment that each of us eventually will one day get.”
Ellis, for his part, said Henderson’s situation was a “tragedy.”
“Commissioner Henderson has served this county for six terms. The recreation department has been very near and dear to him (and) something he really loves is Nelson Heights. I’m saddened by both,” he said.
Issuing checks has been done before, but “now he’s taking a lot of other stress and strain. I don’t particularly like tonight. Maybe I’m part of the problem. If I am, commissioner (Henderson), I’m sorry.”