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Newton OK's emergency moratorium on residential development
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COVINGTON — New residential developments in Newton County will be on hold for at least the next 30 days as planners work to update ordinances to guide future subdivisions.

Newton County commissioners approved an emergency moratorium on new rezoning requests and preliminary plat/concept plan petitions for new residential development in unincorporated areas at their Jan. 19 meeting.

Planning Services Director Judy Johnson told commissioners the department had identified several ordinance regulations that conflict with each other. In addition, she said the differences between types of multi-family dwellings are not clearly defined, and other clarifications are needed relating to density, traffic and zoning in residential developments.

With residential development picking up in the county, Johnson said the department needs to take a temporary break in order to update the ordinances. Since Jan. 1, Development Services has received 55 permit applications and issued 25 new residential permits, Johnson said. She added that there are nearly 7,000 lots in the county, of which the majority could potentially be developed as residential.

Johnson said the 30-day emergency moratorium is a first step in updating residential development ordinances. She said it will give the planning staff time to prepare for a work session where they can review concerns with the ordinance and then request an extended moratorium that will give them time to address those concerns. The emergency moratorium will last until Feb. 19.

Johnson said the moratorium will not affect subdivisions that have already been platted.

“This is not to prevent people who already invested time and money and plans from being able to move forward,” she said. “This is to stop the acceptance of two particular types of requests — new zoning requests and new preliminary plat or concept petitions for new residential development only.”

Commissioners approved the emergency moratorium unanimously.

Rockdale Public Schools offers free COVID-19 testing for staff, students
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CONYERS – Rockdale County Public Schools is offering free district-wide COVID-19 testing this week for employees – the first district in the state to do so – as part of its acquisition of telehealth services in partnership with Kids’-Doc-On-Wheels Inc.

Free COVID-19 testing is just one step in the comprehensive COVID-19 risk mitigation measures RCPS is taking to keep staff and students safe, according to the school system. RCPS will also begin offering free, district-wide COVID-19 testing for students starting Feb. 8. RCPS is on a fully virtual class schedule until Feb. 22, when in-person classes on a hybrid schedule will begin for families who choose the hybrid option and virtual classes will continue for families who choose the virtual option.

“As the first district in the state to provide COVID-19 testing for both our staff and students, RCPS is demonstrating its commitment to prioritizing the safety and well-being of our staff and students in preparation for their return to in-person teaching and learning,” said Superintendent Dr. Terry Oatts. “I’m happy to see other districts beginning to follow suit on securing such access to testing.”

While not originally included in the proposed Memorandum of Understanding with Kids’-Doc-On-Wheels, Oatts negotiated the inclusion of district-wide COVID-19 testing as part of the MOU, which was approved by the Rockdale County Board of Education in November. Throughout December, RCPS and KDOW coordinated the scheduling of COVID-19 testing, which formally began Jan. 25 at C.J. Hicks Elementary School.

“Our staff testing successfully began Monday on a drive-through basis,” said Oatts. “Fifty staff members were tested on Day 1, which is a great kickoff to testing for our staff. Student testing is already scheduled to begin on Feb. 8 at our three traditional high schools on a weekly rotational basis.”

RCPS is working to significantly minimize risk by adhering to the consensus of public health experts which includes 1) mandatory mask wearing, 2) social distancing, and 3) washing hands regularly to include the use of hand sanitizers. Per our reopening schools guide, each of the above measures will be adhered to in RCPS.

In addition to these measures, RCPS will implement a hybrid in-person learning schedule beginning Feb. 22, which takes the total number of in-person students at each of the schools and reduces that number by half. Half of those in-person students will attend on Monday-Tuesday, while the other half will attend on Wednesday-Thursday. On Friday, all students will have remote supplemental learning and support activities. Oatts made the decision to implement a hybrid schedule last semester when planning for an eventual return for in-person learning. The hybrid schedule further facilitates the school system’s ability to safely socially distance our students within learning spaces.

For more information about the hybrid schedule, COVID-19 testing, and other risk mitigation measures, please visit www.rockdaleschools.org/reopening.

Cowboys called in after cattle loose on county roads cause damage and danger
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CONYERS — Rockdale County is still rural in many aspects, and cattle can be found grazing in fields around the area. But when cattle get out, officials don’t necessarily have the needed skills to corral them. That happened last weekend when a bull and two cows began threatening people and vehicles, and WSB TV reported that Rockdale County called in professional cowboys to help round them up.

According to Rockdale County Commission Chairman Oz Nesbitt Sr., a feral bull and two aggressive cows have been a nuisance in the area for about three months, but last weekend the bull rammed a car on Dogwood Drive, an access road that runs alongside Interstate 20, and threatened to get out onto I-20, which could have caused a massive accident.

Law enforcement, firefighters, animal control officers and a couple of professional cowboys worked together on Jan. 24 to find the errant animals. Drones were used to locate them.

The bull charged one of the cowboys and then ran toward the highway and had to be put down by officers. The two cows were found alongside nearby railroad tracks, but were hit and killed by a passing train before they could be corralled.

The county and the owner of the vehicle that was hit by the bull are looking for the owners of the animals to seek payment for damages.

Melisa Mims named Community Relations Manager for Rockdale County chairman's office
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CONYERS – The Rockdale County Office of the Chairman has announced Melisa Mims as its new Community Relations manager. In this role, Mims will work to develop collaborative relationships between businesses, industries, community stakeholders, and Rockdale County government, with a focus on expanding the outreach and marketing of Rockdale County initiatives and programs.

Mims brings over 20 years of community outreach, sales, marketing and strategic planning experience and expertise into her new role. She earned her bachelor of arts in mass communication from Savannah State University and her master of arts in Psychology with a specialty in organizational development from The University of the Colorado Rockies.

Prior to joining Rockdale County, Mims was the human trafficking coordinator for the Georgia Department of Driver Services, with the goal of educating and creating awareness among CDL examiners, trucking companies and organizations, and drivers to assist in preventing human trafficking involving commercial vehicles.

Mims is an active member of the Covington Area Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, president of the Rockdale PTA Council, member of the Savannah State Alumni East Atlanta Suburban Chapter, and a member of Springfield Baptist Church. She is also the cirector of Showtime Pros Inc. and has three children, Jermaine, Mya and Myles.

She can be reached via extension 770-278-7013.

For more information, please contact the Office of the Chairman at 770-278-7003.