After months of delays and conversations, little changed in the Nelson Heights Community Center situation as the Newton County Recreation Department remains the most likely management candidate.
The Board of Commissioners held a work session Tuesday to review all possible options. The work session was pushed back to February in order to give the center’s 501(c)3 board of directors, formed in 2008, a chance to reorganize and make a management pitch.That didn’t happen Tuesday, and county officials were divided on why plans fell through.
At the meeting Chairman Kathy Morgan said she thought the 501(c)3 board was going to bring back a proposal, including a new board and business plan. She said this had been discussed in a December meeting involving commissioners J.C. Henderson and Nancy Schulz, as well as the Rev. Willie J. Smith and representatives from the non-profit IECDG, who had all worked with the county on its Neighborhood Stabilization Program.
Henderson said Tuesday that he believed most of the information had been collected, and he asked IECDG President R.J. Fields to give an overview of what had been discussed. However, Fields said that the 501(c)3 had nothing to present.
"In our discussions over the past couple of weeks, they have declined to make a proposal. There is literally nothing for us to coach or facilitate," said Fields. "This group (the 501(c)3 board) pretty much told us they’re standing down; that’s what we’re telling you."
Henderson questioned which 501(c)3 board members Fields had spoken with, but Fields declined to give names, outside of Smith. Fields said this was an awkward situation for IECDG because they were just trying to help the county by being facilitators and they didn’t want to be caught in the middle of the debate.
Henderson told the BOC that he and Smith had put together a list of names to reform the 501(c)3 board. He said Wednesday the board was being reformed because Morgan wasn’t comfortable with Henderson serving on it.
"She said she had a conflict with a commissioner serving on the board. I didn’t believe (that was a problem), but I wanted to do what was best for the community," Henderson said.
On Tuesday, Morgan said that she had contacted several of the 11 names on the list, and many people did not want to be on the board or did not have time to serve the primarily fundraising entity.
One of Morgan’s biggest concerns was how would the 501(c)3 board pay for all of the programs it wanted to run, including after-school tutoring, senior programs, recreation programs and computer training. At the December meeting, Morgan said she told Henderson that the Washington Street Community Center board raises about $250,000 for its programs and she wanted a more in-depth business plan to explain how the NHCC board would fund its programs.
"The (WSCC), which is the closest type of facility compared to (NHCC), started trying to organize around 1973. They did not get any appropriations or help from the county government until the mid-90s. They had to raise matching funds for every dollar the county appropriated, and they got their $70,000 over the course of two to three years, but had to provide a match, either money or in-kind services," Morgan said.
Smith was not at Tuesday’s meeting and he said Wednesday, that he didn’t know the 501(c) board was supposed to make a presentation. He said after giving her the list of names, he never received any feedback.
"I did call Ms. Morgan, but she did not return my call. I didn’t know where she was on the project," Smith said. "I finally got a call back saying we were supposed to be in front of the commissioners. I was not ready to present any project last night, so I said forget about it."
Smith and Henderson both said they didn’t agree with the recreation commission’s being the sole manager, because they want the community to be involved. However, after Tuesday that seemed to be the most likely option.
Recreation Commission Director Tommy Hailey and his recreation board made the same basic proposal they had made months earlier.
They asked for no interference from the 501(c)3 board, for the $64,000 that had been budgeted for the center to be added to the recreation department’s budget and for the BOC to consider hiring a program coordinator at a salary of around $37,000. This money had also been previously included in this year’s fiscal budget.
The recreation commission’s proposal called for the community center building to be rented out for meetings and family celebrations. The cost would be a $75 hourly fee or $300 daily fee for community residents, and a $100 hourly fee or $400 daily fee for non-residents.
The center would also have various programs that would be run by the recreation commission similar to their other facilities. Hailey also proposed that the center might be used as a voting precinct in the future.
The third option is to leave the NHCC vacant and only use it as a rental facility, similar to Gaither’s Plantation.
Morgan said the center may be discussed at the county retreat this weekend at Burge Plantation. The BOC is expected to make a final vote about who will manage the NHCC at its March 2 meeting.
Senior Services Also in Flux
Another county-related 501(c) board in flux is the Senior Services Board of Directors. Senior Services was once a county department but was converted to a non-profit organization in 2006.
Ever since then, questions have arisen about the purpose and structure of the board. Last year the chairman and two members of the senior services board resigned. The county held a work session in August to examine senior services, but no changes have been made since then.
Without a full board, Senior Services is not eligible to receive a $60,000 grant from the United Fund. On Tuesday, in order to remedy the situation, commissioners Mort Ewing and Tim Fleming, whose appointed members had resigned, volunteered to serve as temporary directors. Ewing also made a motion to appoint Chairman Kathy Morgan as the temporary chairman.
Ewing and Fleming said they had called County Attorney Tommy Craig, who said he believed that was legal under the senior services bylaws. All three appointments were approved by a 4 to 1 vote with Commissioner Earnest Simmons opposing.
Ewing said he didn’t want to appoint anyone to the board because it remains dysfunctional, and he didn’t think that was fair. Morgan said the appointments were temporary.
However, on Wednesday, Morgan said the attorneys looked into bylaws in more detail and discovered commissioners are not allowed to appoint themselves. She said Craig was in the car riding to Atlanta when he received the original call asking about the legality of the appointments.
As a result, the county announced a special called meeting at this weekend’s county retreat in order to remove the two commissioners and county chairman and to appoint three other members.
At Tuesday’s meeting Fleming said the goal is to make sure senior services doesn’t lose any money.
Simmons said that his senior services appointee had never informed him of any problems with the senior services board and that he did not want to vote without having more understanding of the problems.
Morgan said senior services will be discussed at the weekend retreat, which takes place between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday at Burge Plantation. The total cost is expected to be no more than $864. The retreat is open to the public.