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Mort Ewing honored with retirement reception
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COVINGTON — Come the end of this month, Mort Ewing won’t have anywhere he has to be every morning.

Ewing, a former Newton County commissioner, is retiring from his full-time job with the insurance firm of Jones, Ewing, Dobbs and Tamplin after 21 years to spend more time with his wife, Faye, of 60 years, his two sons, Ben and John, and his family farm.

“I have a sister who is 90 and is still very active,” said Ewing recently at a retirement reception in his honor at the Lions Club meeting hall. “I was in the third grade when she went to college, and I had to take her place in the dairy. I’m looking forward to not having a mandated schedule every day.”

Ewing, who was elected to three terms as a county commissioner, also served as president and CEO of Georgia Farm Bureau in the 1980s and 1990s. Following his retirement from the Farm Bureau, Ewing joined the Jones, Ewing, Dobbs and Tamplin office in Covington.

“The Covington office is here today because of Mort Ewing,” said his cousin Doug Ewing, president of the firm, which has offices in Athens, Madison and Atlanta. “ … Mort has done a superb job with that office, not only with insurance, but more as a dedicated citizen … he’s dedicated, committed and honest as he can be. You’re not going to catch him in a lie. I haven’t yet.”

Ewing is known to many throughout the state for his support of agriculture. A sixth generation farmer, Ewing served as president of the local chapter of Future Farmers of America while attending Newton County High School, receiving the Georgia Planter degree and the highest FFA honor, the American Farmer degree.

In January 2019 the new ag center at the Newton County FFA-FCCLA Center was named for him in honor of his contributions to agriculture and his ability to foster the cooperation needed to bring the project to fruition.

During his retirement reception, Ewing thanked his colleagues at the agency and the loyal customers they have served.

“It’s been a 21-year-plus journey, one that’s been enjoyable — not 100% of the time — we’ve had our challenges along the way, but we’ve always overcome those to move forward,” said Ewing.

He will be succeeded by Stan Edwards as managing agent at the Covington office. Edwards represents District 1 on the Newton County Board of Commissioners.

Baggett expresses concern about lack of respect for police; Cotton says nonviolent offenders may soon find themselves in jail
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COVINGTON — Since the beginning of April, the Newton County Sheriff’s Office and the Covington, Oxford, and Porterdale police departments have agreed to limit arrests in a united effort to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in the Newton County jail, either writing citations or taking warrants for nonviolent offenses that will be executed at a later date.

While the efforts have paid off in terms of keeping the pandemic out of the county jail, as nonviolent offenders are realizing they won’t get locked up, their lack of respect for the law and law officers appears to be growing.

Covington City Councilmember Fleeta Smith Baggett gave a prime example of that lack of respect that occurred recently in the city, and expressed her concern for the safety of the officers.

“Last week some officers had to come to town to deal with some problems we were having with guys on skateboards,” Baggett said at the Nov. 16 meeting of the council. “I cannot tell you how appreciative I was of how they (the officers) held their composure. I have never, in my entire life, seen people be as ugly to anyone as I saw these three be to these officers. Everything from going to Facebook Live to ugly hand gestures to calling them names, and this was at noon on a Tuesday.

“So I cannot imagine what they are facing Friday night at midnight. And I don’t know what else we can do to help you. I’m still deeply concerned that we don’t have a jail because all three should have been locked up immediately. The only thing they did not do to our officers was put their hands on them. When it was all said and done, they got on their skateboards and rode off, and there was nothing we can do because we cannot lock people up.

“It is a bad problem. I’ve just have never seen such a lack of (respect of) authority by anyone ever, in my entire life. And it went on and on and on, probably for 30 minutes. And all I could think about were the resources that were being wasted and how they should have been tossed into the back of a patrol car and taken to jail.

“I felt bad for the older people that witnessed it, the children that witnessed it, and I felt bad for our officers having to stand there and take it and be embarrassed. I just don’t think that should happen. When we don’t have any recourse as to what to do with them, we’re going to continue to see that amp up.

“We’ve got to do something because the word had gotten out,” she said, “and I fear for your safety because I don’t want anyone to hesitate and we have something tragic happen.”

Police Chief Stacey Cotton recalled that day and what was happening, and said they will soon be able to do more than just issue citations, thanks to the efforts of the Newton County Sheriff’s Office.

“That was actually election day when we were out and about and that occurred,” Cotton said. “About nine hours later I was out on the Square to see what happened, and I came across some more skate boarders right in front of Lee’s Fashions. I told them to get out of there, and as I was walking away from them, I saw two more down the street. I went over and got on them a little bit and one of them gave me a little bit of what the officers heard. We called his mother, and he was just as rude to his mother as he was to us. That’s what we’re dealing with out here in the community. But he was 15, and I couldn’t have snatched him up and taken him to jail because he was a juvenile.”

But Cotton said he has talked with Sheriff Ezell Brown and been told that the Sheriff’s Office is setting up a rapid test procedure for COVID-19 and that if a person tests negative, they will start putting them in jail.

“The Sheriff agrees that he doesn’t want folks to just get away with being disorderly,” Cotton said. “He asked if we’ll pay for our testing, and I said absolutely. It’s about $30 a test.

“They just don’t want to put them in the jail if they test positive. But if they give them a rapid test and they’re negative, they’ll put them on into the jail.”

Rockdale County to continue funding Conyers Rockdale Economic Development Council
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CONYERS — Concerns that Rockdale County commissioners intended to defund the Conyers Rockdale Economic Development Council in 2021 have been put to rest.

Commissioners apparently reached a consensus last Nov. 19 to continue funding economic development through the CREDC rather than bring it in-house or outsource it to a contractor. The county provides $170,000 annually to the CREDC to fund economic development efforts.

Two weeks earlier, the future of CREDC appeared in doubt after the organization’s employees were told the county was considering withdrawing funding. The leadership of the Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce pushed back against the proposal, stating that the group “strongly disagrees with this decision.” Subsequently, Rockdale County Commission Chairman Oz Nesbitt informed CREDC and Chamber of Commerce officials Nov. 20 that Commissioners Sherri Washington and Doreen Williams had agreed to continue the funding.

“I was delighted to share with members of CREDC that the Rockdale Board of Commissioners has elected to continue funding CREDC,” Nesbitt said in an emailed statement. “In addition to public safety, economic development remains a top priority. CREDC is an essential component in the overall success of Conyers-Rockdale County. Its members are the core fabric to our beloved community. This is what cohesively moving forward looks like.”

In an email to the Citizen Friday, Williams said she had never advocated for defunding or dismantling the CREDC.

“My position has always been that we should wait for the recommendations from the study done by the Carl Vinson Institute,” said Williams. “That report says nothing about dismantling the council, and in fact, is complimentary to the work that has been done. There are multiple reasons to continue Rockdale County’s relationship with the CREDC; $170,000 remains in the budget proposal for 2021, and I will be voting to keep it there.”

Commissioner Washington did not reply to a request for comment from the Citizen.

CREDC has two employees, Marty Jones, executive director, and Gina Hartsell, project manager, who also oversees filming projects for the city and county. In addition to the county funding, the city of Conyers funds the CREDC at $40,000 annually.

Increased demand for hygiene products prompts expansion at FiberVisions in Covington
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COVINGTON — One of Covington’s oldest industries on Tuesday announced a $48 million expansion. FiberVisions, a subsidiary of Indorama Ventures Public Company Limited and a major employer in Covington for more than 50 years, will expand its polyolefin fiber manufacturing operations.

The expansion of polyolefin fiber manufacturing is in response to an increase in demand for hygiene products made with biocomponent fibers, such as face masks and baby wipes. The expansion is expected to create 21 new jobs at FiberVisions.

“Since the 1960s, FiberVisions has been creating jobs and opportunities for hardworking Georgians in Covington, Duluth, Athens and the surrounding regions,” said Gov. Brian Kemp Tuesday. “I congratulate FiberVisions and Indorama Ventures on their 50-year success in the Peach State, and I thank them for continuing to invest in their home state.”

To fund the expansion, the Newton County Industrial Development Authority agreed in 2019 to issue up to $55 million in taxable revenue bonds. In addition, during the construction period and for the next several years, FiberVisions will pay no city, county or school system property taxes on the expansion. The company will make payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) over the course of five years, beginning with 25% of the value of the expansion in the first year, increasing to 100% in the sixth year.

In order to make the tax abatement possible, the authority will take title to the expansion project and lease it back to FiberVisions. The lease payments to the authority will be used to pay debt service and to repay the bonds.

“We are very appreciative of the support we have received from Newton County and the state of Georgia for this third phase of our capacity expansion plans in Covington,” said CEO of FiberVisions Tom Zaiser. “As a pillar of the Covington community for many decades, we are pleased to welcome 21 new employees into the FiberVisions and Indorama Ventures family, and we are making plans for additional capacity expansions in the near future.”

FiberVisions is the world’s leading supplier of bicomponent fibers and an international producer of polyolefin staple fibers for nonwoven applications. In addition to face masks and baby wipes, the company’s products are used in diapers and many other hygiene products. Headquartered in Duluth, the company also maintains operations in Athens, in addition to Covington. FiberVisions employs roughly 350 Georgians.

Installation of the new bicomponent fiber line is expected to be complete by the first half of 2021. Once renovations are complete, FiberVisions will be hiring for positions in advanced manufacturing.

“The Newton County Industrial Development Authority is honored and extremely excited for the expansion of the Covington FiberVisions facility,” said Executive Director David Bernd. “Installing a $48 million asset into a 50-year-old building just doesn’t happen every day. Not only is it a historic milestone for Indorama Ventures, but also for the local Covington FiberVisions team. It reinforces our belief and trust in the fact that the IDA’s economic development vision and workforce development strategies are paying off. Here’s to another 50 years of the FiberVisions family being a vital and close partner in the region!”

Senior Regional Project Manager Kristen Miller represented the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s (GDEcD) Global Commerce division on this project in partnership with the Newton County Industrial Development Authority.

“Seeing a company with a long-term history in the state like FiberVisions continue to expand and invest in their Georgia operations is yet another example of our relationship approach to doing business, which is delivering jobs and opportunities to Georgians,” said GDEcD Commissioner Pat Wilson. “I thank FiberVisions for their commitment to Georgia as well as our partners at the local level who have helped foster our decades-long foundational relationship with FiberVisions.”

FiberVisions is a wholly owned subsidiary of Thailand-based Indorama Ventures Public Company Limited. With facilities located in key regions around the world, FiberVisions has the broadest global reach of any polyolefin staple fiber producer, giving the company the ability to serve its customers wherever they are located.