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SPIGOLON: A more civil society than I thought possible
News editor departs after a three-year tenure with The Covington News
Tom Spigolon
Tom Spigolon

This reporter is leaving The Covington News this week for a new opportunity. I’ve already thanked people I believe made my job a little easier in my efforts to inform the public about local goings-on. 

I’m also leaving a better, more informed person about a place outside the core Metro Atlanta counties than I was when I arrived three years ago.

I'm better for leaving behind the citified opinion that places like Covington and Oxford were just cookie-cutter, rural Georgia towns filled with people with the same political and social views as the rest of rural Georgia.

Better for no longer thinking Covington’s Square — despite being the set for “In the Heat of the Night” in the 1980s — was a deserted retail center similar to so many small towns in the South.

And better for seeing that people in the midst of drastic social change and upheaval sometimes can be civil to each other — at least for a little while.

When I arrived on the scene at The Covington News, it was the first time I set foot in Covington despite living in Metro Atlanta for two decades.

It was the midst of the pandemic and big changes politically were on the horizon for Newton County.

All elected and appointed governmental bodies were meeting virtually by using an online platform called Zoom. The county tax commissioner’s office had just reopened to sell car tags after months of being closed. You still couldn’t adopt a pet from the county animal shelter because no one but staff was allowed in. 

A primary election happened on my second day on the job that was the beginning of the end of total Republican control of the county’s constitutional offices. 

Young local activists were organizing rallies on the Square as part of a nationwide reaction to the May 2020 death of Georgia Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. Thankfully, the rallies in Covington were peaceful and respectful — noteworthy mostly as platforms for political candidates to get their photos taken while using bullhorns to show how socially conscious they were

At the same time, the Newton County Board of Commissioners decided to meet in-person for the first time in months and voted to remove the century-old Confederate memorial statue from the Square. 

A dormant protest of the Confederate memorial statue’s century-old presence on the Covington Square had been revived. A counter-protest that preceded the filing of a lawsuit challenging the statue’s removal — something that has kept the memorial in place to this day. 

I remember Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton actually having a civil discussion with people from both sides of the issue — asking them to keep things peaceful. No minds likely were changed that day, but the discussion remained civil — a much different outcome than I had been seeing during protests in downtown Atlanta.

Around the same time, a strange (to me) regional, quasi-governmental body called the Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton counties was meeting virtually. Its main topic was how to secure the area around the construction site for its then-major tenant Facebook — long before a company called Rivian entered the picture.

Along the way, I figured out what a rich, diverse community Newton County was. 

I discovered the hidden gem called Porterdale and the incredible site of a renovated garment mill towering above the waters of the Yellow River. I was already familiar with Emory University and was amazed to see an extension of the university’s campus — including its familiar architecture — in another part of Georgia.

It was an eye-opening experience.

I appreciated Newton County’s welcome and working with folks who could have just as easily given the cold shoulder to the latest in a long line of news editors to arrive at The Covington News.

I didn’t even think about it until I attended a free movie the county government sponsored as part of its 2021 Bicentennial celebration. My wife was impressed that the county officials and economic development leaders volunteering their time knew me by name and greeted me.

This county is going through growing pains, that’s for sure. Not everyone is happy about the pace of growth or what it looks like. I get it and totally understand the frustration of some.

Some elected officials have been especially vocal in public since I’ve been here — both in past years and recently. Those elected officials may have forgotten the old saying about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar. 

I also hope Newton Countians come to realize other counties would roll the red carpet out for a quarter of the industrial and commercial growth Newton County has seen in just the past three years. Along with that growth comes tax dollars that offset what homeowners would pay to sustain the same level of services for things like public schools and law enforcement.

There must be a happy medium here somewhere.

Anyway, thanks to all who have helped me see the good side of Newton County the past three years. Thanks to owner Patrick Graham for having enough faith to hire me. Thanks to editors and publishers Taylor Beck, Madison Graham and Gabriel Stovall for teaching me new things about this business after all these years. And thanks to all the readers who’ve given me kind words about my work rather than the “vinegar” so prevalent on social media these days. I’ll never forget you.

Tom Spigolon was the news editor of The Covington News for the past three years.