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UPDATE: County says Coroner Dorothea Bailey-Butts cannot rescind resignation
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COVINGTON — Newton County Coroner Dorothea Bailey-Butts cannot withdraw her resignation, according to the county attorney.

In a startling about-face Wednesday, Newton County Coroner Dorothea Bailey-Butts announced that she decided to withdraw her resignation. However, in a message sent to her late Wednesday that was posted to Facebook, County Attorney Megan Martin said her resignation would stand.

”Unfortunately, you may not rescind your decision at this juncture,” wrote Martin. “Probate Judge (Melanie) Bell accepted your resignation and entered an order appointing the interim coroner until a special election can be held. I have conferred with her this evening and she is in agreement with me that the authority found at Barrow V. Raffensperger prohibits your rescinding your resignation. … We have read the case and share the same opinion on its interpretation — you may not rescind your resignation. She has worked to have the interim coroner bonded today and will swear him in tomorrow. He will commence service on Friday morning at 8 a.m. I regret your change in stance and wish you the best.”

Late Thursday afternoon a letter arrived from Governor Brian Kemp stating that he also has accepted Bailey-Butts’ resignation, “effective 8 a.m. on May 28, 2021,” and thanking her for her service as coroner.

According to Newton County, any further decision on Bailey-Butts’ status as coroner is now in the hands of the governor.

Bailey-Butts posted a notice on her Facebook page Wednesday saying she had decided to rescind her resignation: “PSA..... I have decided that I am not going to resign as Newton County coroner. I am withdrawing my resignation effectively today. I am not resigning from my position. The citizens voted me in this position. I apologize for the inconvenience.”

Her decision apparently came during an interview with a reporter from Fox 5 Atlanta.

Bailey-Butts, who refers to herself as “Madam Coroner,” had written to at least two Newton County officials earlier in the week stating that she intended to resign as of Friday at 8 a.m. The county had taken steps to swear in former coroner Tommy Davis as the interim coroner and call for a special election to fill the remainder of her term.

She had also posted a lengthy statement on her Facebook page Tuesday announcing her intention to resign and outlining her reasons for doing so. Bailey-Butts claimed she was unable to fulfill the duties of her position due to a lack of support from those around her and people who were intent on sabotaging her.

Bailey-Butts went on to say that her work was criticized because she is Black and a woman.

“These people wouldn’t accept change for the better,” she wrote. “They got so used to the old system. They are intimidated by my capacity, knowledge and experience. This is a classic example of racism and discrimination.”

The county issued a statement Wednesday refuting Bailey-Butts’ claims, stating, “The Newton County Board of Commissioners and members of staff worked with Bailey-Butts to ensure the needs of the residents of Newton County were met. A budget amendment of $50,000 was made to the coroner’s budget in January for operating supplies and any additional training that was needed. Bailey-Butts was also in the process of moving to a larger office to accommodate the needs she expressed to the Board of Commissioners and the county manager.”

The county also firmly denied any claims of lack of support to the Coroner’s Office and any allegations of discrimination based on gender or race.

Bailey-Butts came under fire shortly after taking office Jan. 1, with allegations that she mishandled several cases, including an auto fatality, the death of a guest at the Hampton Inn in Covington, and the suicide of a 13-year-old boy. County Manager Lloyd Kerr filed a petition to the Georgia Coroner’s Training Council seeking to have her removed from office, stating that she “has demonstrated that she is wholly unable to competently serve as the county’s coroner.”

The Coroner’s Training Council did not act on Kerr’s petition.

Subsequently, Bailey-Butts made a budget presentation to the Board of Commissioners in which she asked the county to increase her fiscal year 2022 budget by more than 100% in order to increase her salary, add manpower and expand training.

Bailey-Butts told commissioners in April that she wanted to increase her annual pay from $35,000 to $60,000, taking the position which has historically been part-time to full-time.

Overall, Bailey-Butts proposed increasing the coroner’s budget from $110,000 to $237,357.

Despite that budget presentation in April, Kerr said Tuesday that Bailey-Butts has never submitted a final budget request to the county’s Finance Department. The county budget is expected to be adopted June 15.

Bailey-Butts, a Democrat, defeated Republican Davis in the race for coroner in November. Prior to Bailey-Butts’ election, Davis had been the only employee of the Coroner’s Office for 12 years.

Salem celebrates graduation after challenging year
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CONYERS — Salem High School kicked off graduation season in Rockdale County Wednesday evening with commencement ceremonies at the school’s football stadium. It was the first in-person graduation held in Rockdale County Public Schools since the pandemic altered the course of education last year.

Weathering the pandemic storm was a common theme in remarks by the school’s principal, Dr. Brandi Johnson, Salutatorian Nazarene Campodonico and Valedictorian Alana Williamson.

“Tonight we are all here to celebrate the most resilient class to ever walk the halls of Salem High School,” said Johnson. “The ‘Noles that we are celebrating this evening have proven than no weapon formed against them shall prosper.”

Campodonico said her generation is unlike any other, with unique experiences.

“If there is anything that the Class of 2021 has taught me, it is that we are resilient,” Campodonico said. “We have overcome history-making events, and here we are, still standing on top. We’ve experienced loss, growth, days of grief, and days of celebration. We’ve had days where we have made mistakes and days where we have all come together to share experiences. We made memories. We overcame. We stand now in the middle of a pandemic, and we still rise up.”

Williamson said the graduation ceremony was a time for the Class of 2021 to celebrate all that they accomplished, in spite of hardships.

“The story of our class is a story of uncertainty, perseverance and triumph,” she said. “We are the victors of a long uphill battle, and now that we hav reached the very top of that hill, we must go our separate ways. I cannot say what the future will hold for us, but I am confident that whatever gets thrown at us, we will have the ability to adapt and overcome.”

Salem graduated 236 seniors in the Class of 2021. The class has been offered a total of $3.4 million in scholarships and financial aid. Sixty-six members of the class are eligible for the HOPE scholarship.

One hundred forty-two members of the class applied to college, with 112 accepted into at least one institution of higher learning. Eight will be joining the military and armed services.

Planners recommend approval of convenience store in east Newton
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COVINGTON — Residents of eastern Newton County say they are satisfied with plans for a development at the intersection of Ga. Highway 11 and Interstate 75 after the project was scaled down from a truck stop on 46 acres to a convenience store with two restaurants on 10 acres.

The Newton County Planning Commission on Tuesday voted to recommend approval of a Conditional Use Permit that would allow development of the convenience store and gas station by JPC Design & Construction, an affiliate of Jones Petroleum. The CUP is required for the storage and sale of fuel in the Little River Watershed. The property is located in Tier 2 of the Brick Store Overlay zoning district.

The request will now go to the Board of Commissioners for a public hearing and vote on June 15.

The Planning Commission incorporated a number of staff-recommended special conditions in its recommendation, along with some that were negotiated and discussed by homeowners and the applicant.

LeAnne Long, a resident of nearby River Cove subdivision, said she discussed homeowners’ concerns with project manager Jeremy Crosby on Tuesday to reach the consensus.

“We’re happy this is no longer a truck stop,” said Long, adding, “We are trying to work together to make sure this is something we can all be proud of.”

The conditions stipulate that the hours of operation from be from 5 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.; no semi-truck parking will be allowed; and no overnight parking will be allowed. The developer also agreed that the building will be four sides brick, will have a peaked parapet in front similar to the Historic Brick Store, and that the brick will match the brick on the Brick Store as closely as possible. A minimum 100-foot landscaped buffer will be required along the entire frontage of Ga. Highway 11.

As proposed, the $6 million project will have 12 fuel pumps for passenger cars. The convenience store building will be flanked on one side by an attached Burger King restaurant and on the other side by a Dunkin’ Donuts.

The developer has agreed to pay $50,000 toward the cost of extending a sewer line to the property. Once that line is complete, Jones Petroleum will be able to connect the BP Station and convenience store across the highway, which the company also owns, to sewer.

JPC Design & Construction and property owner Jack P. Davis had originally sought to rezone this 10-acre tract and another 35 acres in February for a travel center featuring a 24,500-square-foot building with a convenience store and fuel sales for automobiles and semi-trucks, along with Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts and Subway fast food restaurants. The plan included 20 multi-product fuel dispensers for autos, eight fueling lanes for semi-trucks, and certified CAT Scales for semis. The convenience store site was designed with 153 parking spaces for automobiles. There would also be 10 parking spaces for RVs, buses and commercial trucks and drive through lanes for the Burger King and Dunkin Donuts. The semi-truck parking lot would have 120 parking spaces.

Phase 2 of the project, listed as future development, would include big box retail space with nine individual tenant spaces.

The Board of Commissioners denied the rezoning on Feb. 16, citing the fact that a truck stop is not consistent with plans for an educational institution/village-type atmosphere planned for the area as part of the Brick Store Overlay zoning.

The property is located near the Newton Campus of Georgia State University, and several large-lot subdivisions are in the vicinity. Homeowners in the area strongly opposed the rezoning.

The owner and developer subsquently field an appeal in Newton County Superior Court seeking to overturn the denial.

Homeowners in the area asked Tuesday night if the county prohibit a truck stop from ever being developed on the property. Development Services Director Judy Johnson explained that, even if it were added as a condition, any owner could challenge that in the future by requesting a Conditional Use Permit or modification of the conditions of zoning.

Suspect charged in murders of two people found shot to death on May 20
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CONYERS – The Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office has arrested a suspect in the murders of a man and woman found shot to death in a car off Bruce Road in Conyers on May 20.

Javon S. Price, 22, of Covington, was arrested on May 25 and has been charged with murder in the deaths of Miykel Blackburn and Trevia Ways, both 22 and both from Snellville.

On Thursday, May 20, deputies responded to a person shot call around 1:40 p.m. on a remote gravel driveway off Bruce Road in Conyers, off Flat Shoals Road SW. Upon arrival they found Blackburn and Ways inside the vehicle with multiple gunshot wounds.

The homeowner told WSB-TV that noticed a car in his driveway when he was on his way to get mail. He said he noticed a bullet hole in the rear window and as he got closer, he saw two bodies.

Adrian Alexander, a liaison for the Blackburn family, said Blackburn and Ways were childhood friends who grew up together. Blackburn graduated from South Gwinnett High School in 2017 and had been in the United States Air Force for three years, rising to the rank of Senior Airman. He leaves behind a fiance and a newborn baby, Avery. A Go Fund Me link has been set up to make sure the infant is take care of: https://gofund.me/02839a35.

A candlelight vigil for both Blackburn and Ways was set for 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 27, at 5221 Biffle Road in Stone Mountain.

This case is still an active ongoing investigation. Anyone with any information is asked to contact the Rockdale County Sheriff Office at 770-278-8059.