Commissioner J.C. Henderson takes his job as a representative seriously. He spends much of his day driving around District 4 talking to people in Covington and Oxford. As the only fully retired county commissioner, Henderson has the time to seek the pulse of his community on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, many of Henderson’s constituents also have a lot of time on their hands, because of the high employment in the western half of Covington. And they let Henderson know what they want — jobs and amenities.
District 4 is the county’s most urban area and covers the western and northern sections of Covington and all of Oxford, Newton County’s two largest municipalities. It’s the smallest district by size and, despite its density, is also the smallest by population, Henderson said. The district may be enlarged during the next reapportionment, which will take place after the 2010 census.
Henderson said poorer blacks make up the majority of his district. Monticello Street, also known as Ga. Highway 36, is the dividing line in Covington between Districts 4 and 5 and between the black and white parts of the city.
Unlike other district tours, Henderson focused more on the district’s people than its sites. As we drove around in one of the county’s cars, he took me from house to house to talk to his constituents.
Henderson’s focus continued to be on the Nelson Heights Community Center, and although the dialogue has become strained in recent weeks, there is a definite need for a center in the Nelson Heights neighborhood.
In the middle of a normal Friday, dozens of people, young and old alike, were wandering around their neighborhood or simply sitting on their porches. One of the first stops we made wasn’t to a home, but was to a stop on Washington St. called the "bench." Three middle-aged men were sitting on the porch of this abandoned building drinking some beers and chatting.
Henderson said this and similar areas around the district were good places to go to get the pulse of the community. One of the men, Calvin Darty, said the district has a lot of problems, but jobs are the number one priority. He said improving streets and adding more sidewalks were also important.
Henderson asked them about the community center, and they all said it should be up and running already.
"These people have nothing to do, that’s why I haven’t dropped the Nelson Heights Community Center issue, because it’s needed," Henderson said.
Leaving the bench, we proceeded into the Nelson Heights subdivision, passing by the Rising Sun Baptist Church, where Henderson is a deacon.
One of the next stops was to the house of Freddie Smith, a truck driver for nearly 40 years. He was standing outside talking to family members and friends when we pulled up. He said people here don’t have many entertainment choices, and they mainly have cookouts and simply hang out. The residents say they need public facilities, because they can’t afford other entertainment choices.
Henderson and Ewing have been on the Board of Commissioners longer than the others, and it shows in their knowledge of their community and the people in it. Henderson said he often stops by resident’s houses for lunch during his community visits, and he waved at nearly every person he saw.
After touring around Nelson Heights, we headed across U.S. Highway 278 to North Covington. One of the most important stops was the public facility complex north of Geiger St. NW. The formerly all-black R.L. Cousins High School, newly renovated Wolverine Field and soon-to-be renovated Cousins Gym are all important historical sites for Covington’s black population.
Cousins Gym and Wolverine Field were included in the latest special option local sales tax because of their historical significance. Henderson said he was one of the last students to graduate from R.L. Cousins before the school was integrated. Once the gym is finished, he said he hopes it and the field will be activity centers for the surrounding residents.
The city of Oxford and Mayor Jerry Roseberry were next on the list. Henderson said he has always had a soft spot for Oxford, the town where he spent his childhood summers with his grandmother.
Roseberry said the town of Oxford was founded by the Methodist Church one year after Oxford College was built in 1838. He said many of the city’s streets are named after church bishops, and the college continues to be the main influence in the city today. Many college employees and professors live in Oxford and many other residents make use of the college’s recreational facilities, including tennis courts, the library and the theatre.
In addition, the city has popular walking trails and Roseberry said the city’s quiet, beautiful neighborhoods also attract many walkers and bicycle riders.
Roseberry said the city has very active residents, who participate in community meetings and stand up to protect their community. Henderson has created goodwill in the community because of his support in voting against the location of a second asphalt plant in Oxford. The community didn’t want the increased truck traffic or noise and air pollution.
The biggest issue for the community is its effort to replace aging water and sewer lines, which will cost millions of dollars. On the positive side, Roseberry said the city is excited for the new two-story city hall, which is expected to be finished by summer 2010.
Henderson said his biggest goal for District 4 and the county is turn around the economy and bring in jobs. He said the county needs experienced leadership to move forward, and he recommended someone like County Attorney Tommy Craig, a person who has been around for decades and has contacts throughout Atlanta.
Continuing to improve education and increase programs is going to continue to be a focus as well. That’s what the residents of District 4 are asking for.