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Newton board debates, approves donation to Juneteenth organizers
Commissioners warned groups with differing political, social views also could seek funding from county in future
Newton County Historic Courthouse
The Historic Courthouse in Covington where the Newton County Board of Commissioners meets. - photo by File Photo

COVINGTON, Ga. — Some county commissioners recently defended a donation to a group organizing an annual Juneteenth observance after hearing they could be opening the door to requests from groups they do not agree with.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted to approve a $1,500 donation to cover an organizing group’s cost of parade permits as part of an annual Juneteenth celebration set for June 19 and 20 at Legion Field in Covington.

Commissioners took the action after being warned that groups — with political or social views differing from those generally held by county residents — possibly could seek donations for their events, as well.

County Manager Lloyd Kerr said he personally supported the Juneteenth group’s efforts to create activities surrounding the observance — which celebrates the date in 1865 former slaves in Texas learned they had been freed.

“If you decide to sponsor this event, or you decide to participate by paying for the permits, then I think you would also need to be aware that this would open up the board for any organization that would want to do a similar type activity that would come to you and ask for the same type of consideration — whether this be an organization that you agree with or not,” Kerr said.

Commissioners Alana Sanders of District 3 and J.C. Henderson of District 4 were vocal supporters of efforts to donate funds to Juneteenth organizer Newton County Historical Committee.

District 2 Commissioner Demond Mason said a Covington City Council member had told him the council was considering giving Juneteenth organizers a discount on renting Legion Field rather than a direct contribution.

Sanders said she believed a discount was the equivalent of a contribution. 

She said county commissioners actively participated in past Juneteenth parades — an action that showed “we should be supportive of it.” 

“As a county, I do agree that we should support this event because it’s representing a majority of the people, if we look at the makeup of Newton County.

“We support Bicentennial, we support various things. Newton County is starting to be a melting pot.”

Mason said “the point that we’re trying to get across” is “when we do give monies to specific organizations” it may obligate the board to give money to any group wanting to host an event.

Henderson said he believed the board should consider any future requests “on a case by case basis” even if the organization is one to which board members object or the requesting agency believes they are entitled to receive.

He said elected officials sometimes have to make tough decisions.

“That’s part of this job, to make those decisions,” Henderson said.

Kerr said he did not favor District 5 Commissioner Ronnie Cowan’s suggested county policy for Kerr to enforce to allow any organization to make a request but be limited to a $1,500 donation from the county. 

The county manager said he preferred the board decide which organizations would receive money.

After the board voted unanimously to give Juneteenth organizers $1,500, two speakers during a “citizen comments” part of the meeting said they believed the board had “opened up the door” for granting future requests.

Attorney Stephanie Lindsey said she would be upset if public money was given to a group opposing removal of the Confederate statue from the Covington Square. 

Archie Shepherd agreed.

“If you have the (Ku Klux Klan) come up here, they’re gonna be able to do that same thing that you just did,” he said.

It was not clear if the board also could face legal challenges if they did not donate to all groups making requests.