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Commissioner Edwards: County-wide safety at issue in bond delay
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COVINGTON — District 1 County Commissioner Stan Edwards is urging board members who tabled a bond resolution for a fire station to consider the broader public safety ramifications of that decision.

In comments sent to the Citizen Friday, Edwards sought to provide some perspective on how Fire Station 4, which would be located on Big Woods Road in District 5, would impact safety throughout the county.

“Fire stations located within various districts do not serve those districts only, per se,” said Edwards. “For example, a station in District 4 is out on a call when another emergency arises in District 4. The closest fire station is already out on a call, so who responds? The next closest station, probably in another district.”

Edwards’ comments came in the wake of a decision by three members of the county’s Public Facilities Authority — which is made up of the five district commissioners — to table approval of a bond resolution for Station 4 until they get feedback from the county manager on funding for more than $42 million in bonds they are seeking for special projects in their individual districts.

Fire Station 4 has been in the works for more than a year. The Board of Commissioners has already approved the project, agreed to back the bonds, and has purchased land and broken ground on the facility. In addition, commissioners approved funding for a firetruck for Station 8 be included in the bonding for Station 4. Other than the renovation of the former R.L. Cousins school, none of the projects proposed by Commissioners Demond Mason, Alana Sanders and J.C. Henderson for bonding have previously been discussed by the Board of Commissioners.

Edwards said he did not want to address the “political tactics” used by the three commissioners to table the fire station bond, but he did want to point out that the new fire station benefits the entire county.

“Our stations and firefighters serve the public safety needs of the entire county,” he said. “They act in the best interest of the county as a whole — like how the oath I took to be a commissioner requires me to act in the best interest of the county — not just my district.”

As an example, Edwards pointed out that the recently re-opened Station 2, which is located in District 1, responds to more calls in District 2, which is represented by Mason, than in District 1.

“I knew that four years ago when I started pushing to have Station 2 refitted and re-opened,” he said. “My only goal was to get a public safety gap filled in the heart of Newton County, regardless of districts.”

Edwards further commented:

“I have voted to approve each carefully vetted expenditure for the new Station 8, located in District 3. That public safety gap will soon be filled, and if Station 4 can be built, we as a county would have close to 95% of our citizens within 5 road miles of a fire station. That is huge for protection of lives and property – not to mention insurance premiums. The only problem is the engine/truck cost for Station 8 is rolled into the bonding for Station 4 and approved by the BOC back in 2020. So unfortunately, the fire protection for the north Oxford area (District 3) will have a station but no engine/truck because the (Public Facilities Authority) refused to approve the bond issuance or at a minimum delayed the approval. That is 30 more days that the area will go without adequate fire protection. And by the way, based on the BOC approval of this purchase last year, the engine/truck will be delivered in about 30 days with no way to pay for it.

“The BOC approved (unanimously) funds and bonding for Station 4 in 2020 after the old station was closed in late 2019. Since that time there has been a significant gap in fire protection for the southeastern part of the county. The funding source for the land and building was identified as the 271 Fund – a county tax already in use for many years. That meant Station 4 land, building, and engine/truck would be at no additional tax to the citizens of the county. The old Station 4 was in District 1, but it was determined that the new Station 4 was placed strategically enough it could place more residents within 5 road miles of a fire station than the previous Station 4. With that in mind, a location was selected, and land purchased in district 5. The public safety need for the entire county was best met by putting the project in another district.

“The gist of my lengthy comments, I suppose, is to point out the continued need for new Fire Station 4 bonding because the safety of the entire county, north Oxford (District 3) and southeastern Newton County (Districts 1 and 5) specifically, depends on it.”

Newton's new coroner complains about lack of funding, supplies
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COVINGTON — Newton County’s new coroner presented a litany of complaints to the Board of Commissioners at the board’s Jan. 19 meeting, claiming that the county has not provided the supplies, equipment and funding she needs to do her job.

At one point, during discussion of her request for more office space for her and her staff, Coroner Dorothea Bailey-Butts held up a manila envelope and warned commissioners’ about its contents.

“I didn’t create this fiasco,” said Bailey-Butts. “This fiasco has been here 17 years, and if I open up this envelope, I will shut Covington down, you understand me?”

The Citizen has filed an Open Records Act request for the documents contained in the envelope; however, according to county officials, Bailey-Butts maintains that they are her personal property and has refused to provide them. Bailey-Butts did not immediately return a reporter’s calls to her cell phone and the Coroners Office.

Bailey-Butts, who took office Jan. 1, asked commissioners for funding — for training and supplies — and complained about antiquated or inoperable equipment. She said she had worked 456 hours in the first 19 days of the month — which would mean she worked 24 hours each day — and that she had not been able to pay an employee she has hired. She also asked for larger office space for her and a staff of seven deputy coroners she said she intends to have on call. She said the larger space is needed so she can work toward accreditation for the office. The coroner’s office is currently housed at the Historic Courthouse.

The coroner initially asked for $3,500 for training for her and her staff and $5,500 for supplies. However, after hearing her list of complaints, District 5 Commissioner Ronnie Cowan said that would not be enough to get her office up and running. He said it would take closer to $50,000 to meet the needs she outlined.

Discussion of Bailey-Butts’ request for larger office space ensued, and Cowan suggested they explore using space at the former R.L. Cousins School; County Manager Lloyd Kerr said there likely is suitable space there that had been used by the Emergency Management Agency.

District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson balked at that suggestion, saying there are other plans in the works for Cousins. Henderson is proposing that the county issue $9 million in bonds for the renovation of that facility.

Henderson’s resistance apparently angered Bailey-Butts, who then displayed the manila envelope and cautioned commissioners about its contents.

“I think that everything they have thrown on the table you are not going to like it when it comes to the coroner,” she said to Henderson. “I’m here for the citizens of Newton County. I’m here for the next four years, and at the end of the day, I feel like it’s for the duration until I no longer want to hold this position.”

Chairman Marcello Banes encouraged commissioners to bring the discussion to a close, and Cowan made a motion to transfer up to $50,000 to the coroner’s budget until July 1. Henderson seconded the motion, which passed 4-1, with District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards opposed.

On Thursday, County Manager Kerr said Bailey-Butts has funding in her budget for training and supplies so it was unclear why she was asking for funds from the BOC. The fiscal year 2021 budget for the Coroner’s Office is $107,120.

Kerr said the county’s Finance Department had worked with Bailey-Butts to explain her budget and the purchasing process. He said the county has accounts with Amazon and Office Depot where she could have bought supplies. He said she was also given a key for the gas pump at public works where she can get fuel any time of the day or night.

“She’s not submitted anything for reimbursement, and she could do that if she has bought things,” said Kerr. “We certainly would be happy to reimburse her.”

He also said she had not submitted any invoices to be paid.

“We can’t pay what we don’t know about,” he said.

As for the employee Bailey-Butts said has not been paid, Kerr said the Coroner’s Office should have contract workers rather than employees. He said contract workers are required to complete paperwork in order to be added to the county’s vendor list as they are considered individual contractors.

“That (paperwork) was not completed,” he said.

The coroner position in Georgia is generally considered to be a part-time job, although coroners or their deputies are on call at all times. Compensation for the Newton County coroner totals $35,000 annually — $1,000 from the state and $34,000 from the county. Deputies are paid on a per-call basis.

Bailey-Butts succeeds coroner Tommy Davis, who served three terms in the office and several years as a deputy coroner prior to that. Kerr said Davis had one deputy coroner on contract and another part-time contractor for administrative work.

Georgia coroners do not conduct autopsies or other scientific procedures. Autopsies in Newton County deaths are conducted by the Medical Examiner’s Office of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Coroners do oversee evidence collection at death scenes, and they decide whether to request autopsies by the medical examiner.

The function of the Coroner’s Office is to determine cause, manner and circumstance of death under the Georgia Death Investigation Act.

The coroner is required to investigate when a person dies:

♦ as a result of violence

♦ by suicide or casualty

♦ suddenly when in apparent good health

♦ when unattended by a physician

♦ in any suspicious or unusual manner, with particular attention to those persons 17 years of age and under

♦ after bi♦ rth but before seven years of age if the death is unexpected or unexplained

♦ as a result of an execution carried out pursuant to the death penalty

♦ when an inmate of a state hospital or a state, county, or city penal institution

♦ after having been admitted to a hospital in an unconscious state and without regaining consciousness within 24 hours of admission.

Covington teens charged after being caught in stolen car with guns and drugs
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CONYERS — Two Covington teens are facing a variety of charges after they were caught in a stolen car containing four handguns and drugs.

The incident occurred about 8:15 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 7, according to a report from the Conyers Police Department. Officers on patrol around the area of Walmart were advised of reports of a stolen grey 2015 Nissan Altima being seen in the area.

One officer spotted the vehicle in the parking lot of a restaurant on Dogwood Drive. When he turned on his blue lights, he reported the driver and passenger attempted to flee in the car, but the driver hit the curb, damaging both front tires, and the vehicle came to a halt on Dogwood Drive.

When other units arrived on scene, the driver, identified as Chad Ayden Allen, 17, and the passenger, identified as Jedric Williams, 19, were removed from the vehicle and taken into custody without incident.

A search of the car revealed a handgun in each of the lower pockets of the driver and passenger front doors, and two more handguns in the center console. Also found in the backseat were seven pistol magazines, two laptop computers, one computer tablet, and seven damaged cellphones.

The rear driver side door pocket had a zippered bag in it that reportedly contained a large amount of suspected marijuana in plastic containers, along with scales and plastic bags. Two plastic bags of suspected crystal meth and one bag of suspected Xanax tablets, and more than $2,600 in cash were also found.

Allen and Williams were transported to the Rockdale County Jail. Both have been charged with theft by receiving stolen property; trafficking in cocaine, illegal drugs, marijuana or methamphetamine; and fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer. Allen has also been charged with three counts of possession of a firearm or knife in the commission or attempt to commit certain felonies, and three counts of possession of a pistol/revolver by a person under 18 years of age. Williams is also facing one count of possession of a firearm or knife in the commission or attempt to commit certain felonies.