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Newton commissioner reflects on first year in office
Sanders sees community-building, park improvements as 2021 accomplishments
Alana Sanders
District 3 County Commissioner Alana Sanders speaks at a groundbreaking event in June for a new 911 radio tower in Newton County. - photo by File Photo

COVINGTON, Ga. — Alana Sanders says her work to “build community” and improve one of the few parks in her northwest Newton County district were among the accomplishments in her first year on the Board of Commissioners.

Sanders took office in January representing District 3, which is a narrow area bordering Rockdale County and stretching from the Walton County line in the north to Salem Road in the south. She served as the Board’s vice chairperson this year.

Sanders won the District 3 seat from incumbent Nancy Schulz in the 2020 Democratic Primary and was elected in the November 2020 General Election without opposition.

The Covington News asked the commissioner some questions recently about her first 11 months in office:

CN: What were your top two or three accomplishments as a BOC member in your first 11 months, and why?

The accomplishment that I achieved was building community within the district and letting my neighbors know that no matter the party I represent, I am here for everyone. Many residents in the county have seen my consistency in knowing that I am not only here to service my district but Newton County as a whole. I receive calls from those around the county asking for assistance and guidance because they have seen my work ethics. I have been told that I am responsive, and I make sure the situation is handled. The goal is to provide the best customer service in this position because I am serving a community that has elected me to represent them. If I cannot assist them with the matter at hand, I make sure that I connect them with someone more knowledgeable in the area.

Around the district we have worked with the roads department to resurface areas that were in need of care, removed items that created blind spots for residents in various subdivisions entering onto main roads, put up more caution signs to elevate accidents to alert drivers of hazardous areas, and answering the calls of my neighbors that have called about specific matters and finding a resolution to the problem.

My second accomplishment was the goal to clean up Fairview Community Park, which is one of the only recreational areas we have in the district. I have been working with ACCG (Association County Commissioners of Georgia) to seek grants who also connected me with the state parks director, who came out to view the location and make suggestions on future plans and safety. Together with the Parks and Rec team we have cut down the trees for visibility and safety, stopped the dumping, security lights, new park equipment, and deterred overnight parking and lingering at the park after hours. Our youth and adults need a location that is just as compatible as the other parks in the county. With the new playground and outdoor exercise equipment this will bring versatility to the community while focusing more on health and wellness. 

CN: What would you say has been the most challenging part of representing District 3 this year, and why?

When you accomplish something new, there will always be challenges. The question should be, “How will you handle those challenges once you are faced with adversity?” I am thankful that I was accepted into this new role by my district and it is my goal to work with those who may not be acceptable at this time to change. The focus should not be on the challenge, the focus should be on how I will continue to help those in my community. I have been told by those in the county that I have woken up a community and I am honored by this statement. It is my desire to make my neighbors a part of my journey, a part of my decision-making, and a part of a community that’s looking for me to address all needs. To those who may have not chosen me as their commissioner, I pray that the works that I have done will continue to speak for me as an effective representative for District 3 and Newton County where we all can work together.

CN: You had the opportunity to see how the Board of Commissioners operated for months before Jan. 1. However, was there anything that surprised you about the job once you took office?

I am a person who is normally by the book and believes in following the laws that are set before us. There is a reason that policies were designed for our governing body so that we can effectively lead our community. There were times that tradition took over what was written and did not coincide with the laws set for our county. It can be challenging when things have been done a certain way for so long that when you present documents that are different from the way things have been done, it can create an uneasy environment and you appear to be changing what has been comfortable but not always right.  As lawmakers it is our job to make sure that we are following policies and procedures and that includes reading and comprehending all documents that govern Newton County. It is always best when a newcomer comes into the group to have some form of bonding activities to build a team and understand the personalities of those who make up the team.

CN: Looking to the future, what is your top goal as a Board of Commissioners member in 2022?

My top goal as a BOC member is to hear from the citizens in the community about what they need. We are in desperate need of recreation and programming for our youth; along with additional services for our seniors in Newton County. We must take care of our future, which is our youth and those who have paved the way, which are our seniors. As a member of the Family Connection board it was heartbreaking to see the statistics related to our youth in regards to literacy, STDs, and infertility. The common denominator is, “US” meeting the needs of those who are in need of assistance, and giving our youth something productive to do in the County outside of the normal extracurricular activities. Every child is not athletic and there must be programs in place that cater to all. This can be done through us providing a multipurpose community center that houses the youth programs needed and activities for our seniors. There is currently a waiting list at our senior center where many seniors are not able to be serviced due to spacing. This is the future that I see for Newton County and that we are pouring into our future leaders to become productive citizens.

CN: Looking even farther, what are one or two top goals you have through the end of your first term and beyond?

The great thing about Alana Sanders is that she does not believe in procrastination and waiting for someone to provide her with the resources. I will go out and conduct the research, connect with those that can provide the resources, and come back with solutions. Newton County has been more of a reactive government to where it is time to be proactive instead of waiting for things to occur. We will never get anything done. The goals that I would like to see achieved within my first term, I have already started within my first year. To be accurate, within my first three months. I hit the ground running because I believe in staying connected. It is not time to sit back and wait to see how it is going to get done, it’s time to get it done. 

We have $10.8 million of the $21 million ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds that have been allocated to our county and have not been distributed. A plan was not even created. We received these funds in May and it was time to work on a plan. I spoke to other governments within the state of Georgia that have already allocated their funds to the community and sought assistance from our state Legislature on the correct way to distribute these funds; including the Department of Treasury’s guidelines. With the help of my fellow colleagues we are going to make sure that we are servicing our community and taking care of those who put us in place to service them.

Alana Sanders
Alana Sanders took office in January representing District 3, which is a narrow area bordering Rockdale County and stretching from the Walton County line in the north to Salem Road in the south. - photo by File Photo