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Leadership uncertainty dogs Nelson Heights
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About the Nelson Heights Center

The mission of the Nelson Heights Center is “to provide a free comprehensive after-school program to meet the needs of children through academic, social and cultural opportunities that promote learning and self-esteem necessary for life-long success.”

The center is open from 3-6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, serving about 30 students ages 5-12 each day.

Children’s activities start with completing homework, then sports and recreation.

The center receives funding from the county as well as donations of money and snack foods.

Its website is

Last Tuesday, the Newton County Board of Commissioners voted to remove Commissioner J.C. Henderson as chairman of the Nelson Heights Center, a facility dedicated to helping children after school. The matter seemed open and closed — he was the chairman, then he wasn’t.

Henderson said Thursday the situation is far from simple.

“I think the minutes are not official until the next meeting (Sept. 16),” he said, “so we’re going to go as is ‘till the minutes are approved at the next meeting. Right now they aren’t official.”

He said he fully intends to respect the board’s decision after the minutes are made official and step down as the center’s chairman, but he’s not sure what will happen then. He’s called county attorney W. Thomas Craig but said he didn’t have a clear answer Thursday afternoon as to how a new chairman and member should be appointed.

Henderson and board member James Russell agreed that the board has six members: Henderson (for now), Russell, Kenny Williams, Forest Sawyer, Muriel Minter and Albert Betnton. County Commission Chairman Keith Ellis is an ex-officio member.

The center’s website lists Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston and City Councilwoman Ocie Franklin as members, as well.

Concerning what the board would do going forward, Russell said he wasn’t “at liberty to talk about it yet,” but then did so: “It’s just straight up ludicrous” that Henderson was removed from the board.

“I’ve known him for 20 years, (and) I have never known him to take one dime or mistreat anybody,” Russell said. “If I had one person on that board (of commissioners) I had to trust, it would only be him.”

Henderson was still upset about Tuesday’s surprising vote. A discussion about Henderson and the check he received from the county as a paycheck advance to help send his son to college was not on the agenda. But commissioners voted at the beginning of the meeting to add it, giving him no time to respond or think things through.

“They wanted me to respond to something they had worked on for a while,” he said. “If J.C. Henderson had something to say about somebody or make accusations about somebody, I would give them a chance to say something. It’s the right thing to do. I wasn’t given an opportunity to defend myself because I didn’t know what they were talking about. (County law) says you’re not supposed to have a meeting before the meeting or after, but something was coordinated here.

“I think it’s a witch hunt toward me,” he said. “We’re hoping to see after next meeting, maybe the community might come out, hopefully, and say we don’t like the way things are going. Maybe if enough people come out, we might change it.”

No matter what, Russell said, the Nelson Heights Center shouldn’t be the victim of controversy

“First of all, it brings more hope to the community as well as the county,” he said. “You have different types of programs to help the children. The whole purpose of it is to help somebody, and that can be universally.”

When all is said and done, Henderson said, “we have to pull together and do whatever we can do and put somebody else in that spot and go forward. We’ll do it out of respect out of the board. We can disagree, and I disagree with them 100 percent, but we’re going to do what they voted.”