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My first week as chair
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Sometimes the best way to learn is to dive in head first. My first week as chairman of the Newton County Board of Commissioners was a lot like diving in head first. There is so much to learn, so many names to remember and don't even mention the acronyms.

Everyone tells me that soon I will be speaking in this foreign language and even know what it means. I have become reacquainted with old friends, met many new ones and have reinforced my faith in the Newton County employees.

The Board of Commissioners and I have completed our first successful meeting. We are planning a retreat (work session at the FFA Camp) one day soon to plan for the year ahead as we begin to work together to build this team you have chosen to lead Newton County.

During the past few months, I have had to educate myself on many projects. Along with Commissioner Nancy Schulz and Commissioner Tim Fleming, we have completed The ACCG new commissioner four-day training session. That valuable program is the beginning of required training to become a certified county commissioner. We have all registered for the next training day in January, as we want to use every opportunity to educate ourselves to represent you in an informed manner.

As most of you know, economic development is vitally important to our community. Chamber President John Boothby, Economic Development Director Shannon Davis, Mayor Kim Carter and I have met with representatives from the Georgia Economic Development Association, Georgia Tech and our existing Industry Council along with the Economic Study initiated by the Leadership Collaborative through the Center. We hope to meet with the management of the existing industries in our county to survey them and get their perspective on our community.

The four of us have a meeting scheduled between our GEDA representative at the chamber to continue this process. I believe all of us as a team want to ensure that we are utilizing the most current tools and most current information to prepare a strategy that will provide the best possible economic opportunities for Newton County.

A lot of you have heard about the economic stimulus package that the new federal administration is preparing. We were requested to send in our list of "shovel ready" projects to our Congressman Jim Marshall and GDOT.

Congressman Marshall graciously scheduled time to meet with myself, Kevin Walter and Billy Skinner (City of Covington Engineer) to discuss the requirements of projects to be included on our respective lists. We also met with our GDOT Board Member, Larry Walker, to discuss the requirements to be considered for the GDOT list. I was invited to attend the Stimulus Package Meeting of 100 transportation officials to hear the latest information on this plan.

We learned there will be changes to the criteria for selection of projects to be considered for state funding. While there, we were able to meet with the other GDOT Board Member representing Newton County, Rudy Bowen, keeping him informed.

Working with Newton County Planning and Zoning along with the City of Covington, several non-profits, GA DCA and local volunteers, we were able to put together a plan to bring before the Board of Commissioners asking them to approve the policy to apply for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program Grant through GA DCA to provide affordable housing and other changes to stabilize neighborhoods in our county. This program is designed to stabilize neighborhoods affected by foreclosures and economic deterioration.

Now I've begun the process of roads evaluation to prepare for next budget. A team from Public Works, the county engineer and I will drive the entire county to begin the process we use to evaluate every road in the county. I have sent each commissioner a memo requesting they send me requests for their districts. Then we work to use that information along with the GDOT report to begin to plan for next year. GDOT did not receive the funding they anticipated and I've received notice that three GDOT projects in Newton County will be postponed. Money is tight everywhere.

I must say my first week was busy, filled with 16-hour days, meeting after meeting. The economy will provide many challenges to our community, but I am filled with hope and see opportunities ahead. I am overwhelmed by the resilience and enthusiasm I have witnessed in each person I have met.

Communication is the key to a successful new year. The Board of Commissioners and I need to have open dialogue and we need to hear from all of you in this great county. Please feel free to call my office anytime to discuss issues in your community.

Kathy Morgan is the newly elected Democratic chairperson of the Newton County Board of Commissioners.