After months of deliberation about whether to run under a revised form of government, county Chairman Kathy Morgan said Friday she will seek re-election in an effort to move the county forward as the economy begins to improve.
Morgan's announcement follows on the heels of medical manufacturer Baxter International choosing to locate locally, a move she said has renewed her excitement for the future of the county.
"The stimulus that Baxter creates, and the effect that will have on our community, excited me," Morgan said by phone Saturday. "We have hope again. Earlier (this year), I talked to several young couples in their 30s and early 40s, who were thinking about leaving our county. I could not sit there and honestly tell them there was the quality of opportunities they looking for (for their children). Now with Baxter here, that is here. I know what can happen in this county. I'm excited again that's there is a future out for the generations to come."
Working under a new system
Morgan, 57, experienced a tumultuous first term in office, including dramatic budget cuts necessitated by the economic downturn and battles with some commissioners, who ultimately stripped the chairman position of some of its power last fall by appointing a county manager who reports only to the board. Two of the commissioners who led the charge, Mort Ewing and Tim Fleming, have announced they are not seeking reelection.
The shift gave Morgan pause in announcing for re-election as she sought private legal counsel's advice on whether to sue the county to reverse what she believed was an illegal, or at least underhanded, change in the form of government.
However, she said Saturday she has no plans to sue the county, as it would only generate negative publicity, and she actually agrees that the county needs a manager. She said her only concern is that the county manager isn't directly accountable to the public. The manager reports to the board of commissioners, but Morgan said they are not involved in day-to-day operations and don't have direct oversight of many functions.
"I do believe this is the right time for us to move in the direction of a county manager position, but it's wrong that three commissioners overruled the voters," Morgan said.
Finally, Morgan said she believes she can continue to be effective as chairman because her day-to-day duties have actually not changed dramatically.
"(County Manager) John (Middleton) and I do work well together. There has not been a major changes in the way we run the county," she said. "I needed to go through certain things, the budget, the county retreat, some of the administrative things that happened at the first part of year, for me to see how this is going to work and it works well."
Morgan said she wants to help the development of Newton to ensure that its natural resources and rural beauty are protected, while using the arrival of Baxter as an opportunity to make Newton County a place that can attract high-level executives and enhance the quality of life.
"With the announcement of Baxter, the work for your leadership has just begun. Community leaders must embrace the vision, implement the plan, continue to seek innovative ideas and set our standards to build a strong foundation. This is no easy task, not for the faint of heart or untested," Morgan wrote in a press release. "Delivering the infrastructure to attract families will be a monumental task. It has been my job to keep this county balanced yet moving in a positive direction."
She also continues to promote working toward the eventual completion of the Bear Creek Reservoir, which was the brainchild of her late husband, Davis.
She said the county is close to receiving a recommendation for a withdrawal permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and once the county has that the reservoir is almost sure to be approved.
"I went to Washington and talked to the director of U.S. Corps of Engineers and asked her why it takes 14 years to get a permit, and it boils down to the fact they have taken cuts during the last 10 years, not just the last four, to staffing and areas that allow them to do their due diligence," Morgan said. "It just takes time."
Morgan said during her tenure, the county has completed Denny Dobbs Park, the Porter Memorial Branch Library and numerous road projects. Working with the chamber, she said Newton County has attracted multiple industries beginning in 2011, totaling more than 2,000-eventual jobs, including 1,500 from Baxter.
"With your help, we passed a new SPLOST to provide capital improvements and pay existing debt service. All this, while maintaining a good credit rating and a stable fund balance," she wrote, acknowledging the accomplishments were a team effort of the board of commissioners and others."
Prior to becoming chairman, Morgan worked in banking and owned small businesses.
She worked for Decatur Federal Bank for many years, which underwent mergers with First Union National Bank and Wells Fargo during her time there.
Morgan worked as a project manager, handling joint ventures between the bank and private companies, and a turn around specialist, where she worked with companies that had already or were in danger of defaulting on their loans.
She also worked in commercial real estate for the bank, working on economic development projects around the state.
She owned and operated her own office supply store for more than four years, and jointly owned and operated Morgan Asphalt, Concrete and Paving with her husband.
A native of Alabama, Morgan graduated from Newton County High School and attended, but did not graduate from, Oxford College.
She said she has also taken banking classes and government classes during her career and has multiple Georgia Department of Transportation certifications.
Morgan serves on numerous boards as chairman, including the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, Newton County Industrial Development Authority, the Porter Trust, Association County Commissioners of Georgia's legislative policy council and the Newton County Board of Health. She also served on the transportation-only SPLOST, T-SPLOST, committee for the region.
She has three daughters and five grandchildren.
"Today, strong, experienced leadership to guide our county forward is critical. We have as short window of opportunity to prepare our county for the growth ahead. Recruiting jobs must be balanced with standards to protect our quality of life and sense of community. We need a leader with vision, willing to implement those plans while preserving our values, agricultural roots and natural assets," she wrote. "I am that leader. I want to continue to serve as your chairman."
Morgan can be reached by phone at her office number (678) 625-1201 or her cell at (404) 234-0325 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.