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Conyers-Rockdale Habitat for Humanity breaks ground on ninth house in Olde Town Village
  • Updated

After being delayed by COVID-19 for more than a year, Conyers-Rockdale Habitat for Humanity broke ground Nov. 17 on its ninth house in the Olde Town Village subdivision off Lakeview Drive.

The new home will be the first on Faith Lane in the neighborhood, and President Bob Harwood said they anticipate building four or five more homes on the road in the next couple of years.

Harwood said the homeowners are Carol and Donald Vaughn.

“Carol is a retired teacher with the Rockdale County School System, and Donald is retired, but you would never know it,” Harwood said. “He stays busy with us at the ReStore. One of the requirements to get a home is that the homeowner needs to do 200 hours of sweat equity, which means that they get their 200 hours when they come out to build the house. Donald and Carol already have their 200; I think they’re working on 600 hours. They are always working with us at our store. We could not have picked a better couple for our next house.”

Conyers Mayor Vince Evans noted that Habitat for Humanity began in Rockdale County in 1990. He said the city sold 11 acres of land to the organization in 2004 for Olde Town Village, and after roads and infrastructure were installed, the first home was built in 2011, with lots for 31 more homes available.

“Conyers has a lot of things that may help someone’s quality of life, but here at Habitat, you are truly changing people’s lives, one family at a time,” said Evans. “I think that is something we all need to recognize and be aware of.”

Rockdale County Department of Public Relations Director Joe Gumm spoke on behalf of the Board of Commissioners and pledged their support to Habitat for Humanity.

“Habitat for Humanity is touching all demographics, all ages, all genders, and that’s what’s great about this,” said Gumm. “In this world of divisiveness, it’s great to come to an event like this because we’re all on the same page and we all support what Habitat for Humanity is doing, because there is one job to do — build a house, get these people in it, provide for them, and find a way to make it happen.”

Also speaking at the ceremony was Ryan Willoughby, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Georgia. He praised the cooperation between the Conyers-Rockdale branch of Habitat and the city and county and said they are “a shining example” for the rest of the state.

“Habitat is about giving people an opportunity to build not just the home, but the life of their dreams that they are entitled to as human beings, as children of God,” said Willoughby. “We believe every human being deserves a safe, decent, affordable place to live, and that’s what we endeavor to create through Habitat. I just want to praise you for what you’re doing in this community. Keep up that great work and continue to be a shining example of what hope looks like here in the state of Georgia.”

Following the groundbreaking, Harwood presented the Vaughns with a commemorative shovel, and also praised the work of Pro Cutters Lawnscapes of Conyers, who cleared the lot and the area around it of kudzu, and also cleaned the entrance and planted flowers at the entrance as a donation.

Rev. Chris Shurtz, pastor of Conyers First United Methodist Church, gave a blessing for the homeowners and a benediction to end the ceremony.

The Vaughns said they are excited about being chosen for a Habitat house. They have been working with Habitat for about 18 months in the store. Carol Vaughn related how they came to be chosen for a home.

“Donald was picking up furniture with Bob (Harwood) and he asked Donald where we lived and Donald told him in an apartment and Bob asked if we had ever thought about a Habitat house,” she said. “Donald said we didn’t think we would qualify. The next time they worked together, Bob brought the application and told Donald to just fill it out, so we did. We were actually at our son’s in Florida and my cell phone rang. I answered it, and it was Sharon saying we had been approved for the house. So it was amazing.”

Donald Vaughn added they really appreciate the Habitat board and workers, not only for the house, but for allowing them to volunteer.

“It really means a lot to me and my wife to have a community and to have a place where we can go and volunteer,” he said. “I’m retired, and she’s retired, but she still teaches. But I’ve been retired almost 10 years and I needed something in my life to fill it more, and this has been a blessing, a real blessing.”

The house, which will be built by volunteers with construction manager John Daniels overseeing the work, is expected to take six to seven months, depending on weather.

Lawsuit against Soil and Water Conservation board dismissed
  • Updated

CONYERS — An effort by former Rockdale Soil and Water Conservation District board chairman Kenny Johnson to have fellow board members and a host of other officials arrested has failed following a ruling in Rockdale Superior Court.

Judge Nancy Bills last month granted a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Johnson against a slate of public officials, including Gov. Brian Kemp and Attorney General Chris Carr.

Johnson, who was elected to the board two years ago, had sued to retain control of the board as chairman and restore a memorandum of agreement with Conyers that he said was illegally changed. Johnson’s relationship with board members became strained in July after the executive order requiring state boards to meet virtually expired. Johnson refused to conduct meetings in person. The three other supervisors on the board — David Shipp, Shay Hanson and George Kelecheck — conducted an in-person meeting on July 9 and voted to elect new leadership, with Shipp elected chairman, Hanson as vice chair and Kelecheck as secretary/treasurer. Johnson did not attend that meeting.

In his lawsuit, Johnson claimed emotional distress, defamation, violation of the Open Meetings Act, harassing communications, and civil fraud and deceit, among other things.

The court found that Johnson did not have standing to bring the claims as chairman of the RSWCD and that his claims were barred by sovereign immunity.

Furthermore, Judge Bills ruled that Johnson’s allegations were “completely irrelevant and are highly prejudicial and improperly and unnecessarily derogatory” to the defendants. In particular Bills ordered that Johnson’s claims that any of the defendants is “racist” or a “white supremacist” be stricken from the record.

The court also noted that Johnson had filed arrest warrant applications against each of the defendants.

“While the court acknowledges that Mr. Johnson is not an attorney and, therefore, not bound by the Rules of Professional Conduct, it nevertheless finds those applications were filed in bad faith and solely in an effort to harass defendants and to obtain an advantage in a civil matter,” Bills wrote.

Shipp said those warrant applications have since been dismissed by Magistrate Court.

Shipp, as the new chairman of the board, was targeted in particular by Johnson in the lawsuit with racial allegations. Shipp, who was elected to the RSWCD board six years ago, said those allegations were particularly troubling.

“People who know me know who I am and that I don’t discriminate against anybody, nor do I think differently about anybody because of the color of their skin,” said Shipp, a local business owner.

“It is very irritating when you have somebody accusing you of something that you’re not,” Shipp added. “But it is what it is. I’m not going to dwell on his delusions.”

Meanwhile, the RSWCD board continues to hold meetings in person and online under Shipp’s leadership, while Johnson holds his own meetings via Zoom. Since the other members do not attend Johnson’s meetings, he does not have a quorum and no actual business can be conducted. Johnson has also attempted to appoint new members to his board, but he has been informed by the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission that his appointment is invalid.

“We’re moving forward and getting things done with the city and the county, as they attend our meetings and don’t attend his,” said Shipp.

The Soil and Water Conservation District board is made up of three elected supervisors and two appointed supervisors. One of Rockdale’s elected positions is vacant and will be filled by appointment of the governor. The board is responsible for providing oversight and site plan reviews for erosion and sediment control for development involving land disturbance. Boards across the state do not conduct the reviews themselves; instead, they enlist the assistance of local planning and zoning departments to conduct the site plan reviews under a memorandum of agreement.

Since Shipp became chairman of the RSWCD board, agreements with both Conyers and Rockdale County have been renewed.

Sanders wants citizens involved in ARPA funds distribution
  • Updated

COVINGTON — Newton County commissioners continue to discuss how best to handle distribution of millions in American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Newton Commissioner Alana Sanders has asked that citizen volunteers be added to a committee tasked with developing guidelines for distribution of the federal funding. Newton County has already received more than $10 million in ARPA funds and stands to receive another $10 million next May.

Sanders is one of two commissioners appointed to a committee to establish the distribution guidelines. Chairman Marcello Banes appointed Sanders and District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards at a Nov. 2 meeting. He also instructed them to seek assistance from County Manager Lloyd Kerr and County Attorney Patrick Jaugstetter.

However, in an email sent to Banes and the commissioners Nov. 5, Sanders urged Banes to allow citizen volunteers to be added to the committee. She also asked for an assistant to be assigned to the committee to help with administrative tasks.

Banes responded that the committee had not yet met and that it had yet to be determined if using a consultant “will still be a feasible option or if an assistant is all that will be needed.”

County Manager Kerr had been in the process of hiring a consultant to oversee the process of allocating ARPA funds, but commissioners decided to take the process into their own hands, with Sanders and District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson complaining that a consultant would take too long.

In his email to Sanders, Banes added that the committee would have to determine if having citizens volunteer to serve on the committee would be a legal option for handling ARPA funds and what credentials they would need if they are not employees.

Sanders responded that “at least one to two citizens” should be added to the committee and that employees could manage distribution of the funds, or possibly a consultant.

In a follow-up email, Kerr said he would not permit county employees to be involved in distributing the funds. Kerr has repeatedly cautioned commissioners about inappropriate use of the funding.

Sanders presented fellow commissioners with a draft proposal for allocation of the funds at the Nov. 2 meeting.

Under Sanders’ proposal, the first $10 million would be allocated as follows:

♦ Supporting public health initiatives — $600,000

♦ Addressing negative economic impacts to workers, households, small businesses, industries and the public sector — $1.15 million. Of this total $500,000 would go to assist renters and homeowners, $250,000 would go toward utility assistance, $400,000 to nonprofits, $400,000 to small businesses, $150,000 to youth engagement, $200,000 to food security, and $100,000 to cleaning up neglected properties.

♦ Replacing lost public sector revenue — $300,000

♦ Providing premium pay for essential workers — $600,000

♦ Investing in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure — $2.2 million. Sanders proposes using $1 million to expand broadband to underserved areas of the county, $700,000 for septic to sewer conversion and $500,000 for home repair assistance.

♦ Contracting for staff management to assist commissioners in distribution of funds in each district — $5.1 million. The proposal calls for each commissioner to be responsible for distributing $1 million in his or her district and for $100,000 to go toward management of the distributions. Commissioners voted Nov. 2 to allow each commissioner to distribute $1 million in their districts, although no guidelines have been set for the distribution.