Prior to the Nelson Heights Community Center opening in 2010, there was a struggle for control between District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson and The Newton County Recreation Commission. Commissioner Henderson’s attempts to be intimately involved in the operation of the center were ultimately rebuffed, however his aspirations to be the anointed leader never diminished.
The move never sat well with Henderson, as he was the one who lobbied for the project to be placed on the 2005 SPLOST. Three years later, Henderson’s patience apparently paid off, but some officials say it’s more of a case of political payback than a fresh start.
The center’s operation was handed to Henderson last week, though the county is wisely keeping financial oversight and thus control of the purse strings. Under the center’s new organization, Henderson is a member of the center’s board of directors along with five other members of his choosing.
So, in one fell swoop, one man was essentially given control of a community center. Henderson said this week — and it’s true — that the Mansfield Community Center similarly allows the District 1 county commissioner to select all of the citizen members to that board. That may be the way it has always been done, but in our democracy, these publicly funded fiefdoms seems awfully dictatorial and against the spirit of this nation.
The board originally placed the center under the Newton County Recreation Commission, which then contracted with the nonprofit Washington Street Community Center to provide services.
Washington Street Executive Director Bea Jackson said the center helped around 17 to 18 students per year with tutoring programs as well as running a few other programs and events.
While Henderson and others have said the center is underutilized, the center was given a limited annual budget of $32,000, and even that wasn’t enough, as overages have been close to $20,000 the past few years because of vandalism and building issues, recreation director Tommy Hailey said.
Some in the county have speculated that Henderson regaining control of Nelson Heights was a political payoff for his no vote at an earlier board meeting, where longtime Joint Development Authority member Denny Dobbs was ousted in favor of Mort Ewing.
In a previous conversation, Henderson said he didn’t vote for Dobbs because he had heard Dobbs had promised to pay big money to someone to “do something” to Henderson. Dobbs said that claim was ridiculous.
In our opinion, placing Henderson in charge of the Nelson Heights Community Center makes little sense. Does he have the expertise to run a center on a small budget?
We hope the board will require a solid business plan and will control expenses because these projects have the potential to turn into unsustainable cash consuming monsters.
The county has money invested in the building and it needs to be used to help residents better themselves and build a sense of community without opening itself up to being simply one person’s throne and kingdom.