As a new year is ushered in and the community looks forward to what 2022 may bring, there are still many questions raised in 2021 that remain unanswered.
• What will come of the Confederate monument saga? It all began in July 2020, when the Newton County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to remove the granite statue from the Covington Square — its home since first erected in 1906.
Covington resident Tiffany Humphries filed a lawsuit seeking damages and an injunction in Newton County Superior Court the day before the board of commissioners voted, while the SCV filed a similar suit the day after the vote.
Superior Court Judge John Ott ruled Sept. 14, 2020, that “the plaintiffs lacked standing to file suit because they suffered no injury and that, even if they had standing, their claims were barred by sovereign immunity.”
Humphries and the SCV appealed Ott’s decision.
On July 22, the appeals court said Ott ruled correctly in 2020 that the appellants did not prove they had legal “standing” to file a lawsuit seeking damages and an injunction against the Newton County government’s planned removal of the 115-year-old statue.
Four days later, it was announced that the Georgia Court of Appeals’ ruling would be appealed to the state’s highest court — the Georgia Supreme Court.
Will the supreme court reverse the previous rulings? We’ll likely find out at some point this year.
• Two investigations are underway, one concerning a city councilman and another concerning county officials.
Anthony Henderson, who serves on the Covington City Council, was bound over by the State Election Board in February to the state Attorney General’s Office for criminal prosecution for election law violations in 2017. Investigators alleged Henderson committed two counts of violating OCGA 21-2-562 (fraudulent entries; unlawful alteration or destruction of entries; unlawful removal of documents; neglect or refusal to deliver documents) and a single count of violating OCGA 21-2-604 (criminal solicitation to commit election fraud; penalties). The violations are considered felonies and guilty parties are subject to significant penalties including jail time.
When asked for an update Wednesday, Attorney General’s Office Communications Director Kara Richardson said no comment was available as the case was still pending.
In the second investigation, the GBI is looking into “certain” purchasing card (P-Card) records of the Newton County government. Which officials and records are involved remains unknown — in an August interview, District Attorney Randy McGinley said those records included “certain P-card holder’s records covering 2020 and further back.”
Natalie L. Ammons, who serves as deputy director for the GBI’s Office of Public and Governmental Affairs, told me recently that the case was still active and could not share any other information, as of this publication.
When might we see new developments unfold in either of these cases? For the Henderson case, I was told to “check in” for updates moving forward. For the P-Card investigation — “I don’t have an estimated completion date,” Ammons said.
And speaking of P-cards, will we ever see a change to the county’s P-card policy and procedures? Residents have called for change, but only the county’s Board of Commissioners have the power to make it happen, as it was the commissioners who originally enacted the P-card policy framework in 2013. To my knowledge, there has been no discussion among the Board about even reviewing the policy.
• What about Baymare — I mean, Morning Hornet’s data center coming to Stanton Springs? Is it really Facebook again? Despite what seems to be an obvious admission by way of action, officials are keeping their lips sealed, as expected. It looks like we’ll find out more about this project in the new year, too.
• Finally, when will COVID go away — or is it here to stay? In recent weeks, there’s been yet another variant of the dreaded virus causing outbreaks both nationwide and here at home. Earlier this week, there had been more than 1,200 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Newton County within the last two weeks. On Wednesday, the state of Georgia set a new single-day record for positive COVID-19 cases with 19,124 PCR and antigen positives reported Dec. 29. The previous record was 13,296 on Jan. 8, 2020.
Will there be a day when COVID is finished? As it’s been said before, I guess only time will tell.
There’s a lot to look forward to in the new year, but I especially look forward to getting answers to a few longstanding questions.
Taylor Beck is editor and publisher of The Covington News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.