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Main Street director Kelly resigns
Former city manager Horton to fill interim role
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Main Street Covington Director Josephine Kelly has resigned, effective June 7, to pursue starting her own company.

Former Covington city manager Steve Horton will serve as interim director while the city looks for a replacement.
Kelly said Tuesday afternoon she’s been director for more than 12 years, but she decided the time was right to start her own small business, which will operate in a similar vein as Main Street Covington by providing marketing services for small businesses. She submitted her letter of resignation to the city Friday.

“I greatly appreciate my time with the city of Covington and the opportunities I’ve had, but we’ve sort of made a decision as a family for me to go ahead and develop my own company,” Kelly said. “We’ll probably be ready to launch it after July.”

According to state regulations and the memorandum of understanding between the city, county and Main Street Board of Directors, a new program director must be hired within 120 days of a vacancy, and an interim director must be employed at all times.

Horton was selected for multiple reasons, the main one being to bring continuity to the program and help with a smooth transition to the next director.

“If you drop somebody brand new in there, that can be awkward for a lot of folks,” Horton told the Main Street board at a called meeting Tuesday evening. “The only thing I want to do is help do what you need to do until you can land back on your feet with a director.

Horton also said his appointment will help quash rumors about who will get the job next.

“The one thing I can promise you is, when it’s all said and done with, (the new director) won’t be me,” he said.
Main Street is jointly funded by Covington and Newton County, but the director is a city employee, so the city will handle the hiring, said Covington City Manager Leigh Anne Knight.

The Main Street board may be involved in the process, but city officials will have the ultimate say.

Main Street Covington is responsible for overseeing development of Covington’s downtown commercial district, including providing various services to businesses, such as marketing, planning downtown events and preserving historical features of the area.

Board members and city officials placed a big emphasis on everyone coming together to pull off this year’s Fourth of July event without Kelly at the helm.

Mayor Ronnie Johnston acknowledged he and Kelly may not always have seen eye-to-eye because of their strong passions, but he thanked her for all the work she did.

“You broke a lot of new territory, and you’ve taken the city to a level and you should be very proud of that,” Johnston said. “The work you’ve done will be remembered forever.”

There’s been a lot of turnover of late among numerous community leader positions in Covington, including the Main Street director, tourism director at the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce and director of the Newton County Recreation Commission.

“It’s going to be interesting,” said board member Andrea Smith, who owns Square Perk.

Johnston said change can be tough when long-tenured officials leave, but he said change also can “bring new opportunities and can be a good thing, too.

“The attitude I prefer to take is, ‘Thank you for everything you’ve done,’ but it’s time we write a whole new chapter of Main Street, and we’ve got an opportunity to have new direction, new involvement and a new direction and energy.”

Kelly’s salary is around $63,000, according to Knight. City officials have discussed raising the salary for the position in the past because it’s different from many similar jobs in the state, but they have not yet taken any action along those lines.

Horton said he may be working in the Main Street office, which is located in the city’s planning and zoning building on Stallings Street, but he also will continue in his function as airport director.

Johnston said Horton is a natural fill-in because he has stayed on with the city to help with miscellaneous projects as needed and always brings a wealth of knowledge and experience.

As for Kelly, she said she was planning to start her own business when the position of Main Street director first became available.

At the urging of local merchants, she applied for the position and intended to keep it for only two years.
She had a kind of epiphany at least year’s annual Main Street meeting, she said, when former Covington mayor Sam Ramsey said the job of downtown development will never be done.

“I kept thinking if I can get this or that done, but his comment resonated with me. When you have a passion for something, it’s hard to let go and feel so vested, but I just started to think about some of the skills I’d like to explore more and where some of my interests lie in the future,” Kelly said. “It just feels like the right time to do it. There are some opportunities statewide, things happening in downtown development that I feel I can fill a niche.”
Kelly will focus on using print, online and social media to help business market their services and products.
Kelly said she will be staying in Covington and will locate her business here and has no plans to move out of the community.