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Conyers adopts ordinance prohibiting urban camping
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CONYERS — The Conyers City Council last week approved an ordinance prohibiting “urban camping” and expanding what is generally considered to be disorderly conduct.

According to City Attorney Mike Waldrop, the ordinance grew out of discussions among council members at the city’s annual retreat earlier this year.

Under the new and updated ordinance, all city public parks, unless being rented for a private event or being used for a city-sponsored event, will be closed to the public from 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise. The ordinance has also been expanded to prohibit public urination, public defecation, lying to police officers, inciting violence, disrupting religious ceremonies or vaccination sites and aggressive panhandling.

Non one found in violation of the ordinance will be arrested until after they have received an oral or written warning. If the violator fails to comply with the warning, then they may be arrested and issued a citation. The fine for a first offense will be no more than $50, and the fine for any susequent offences will be no more than $100.

Waldrop said he worked closely with the Conyers Police Department to draft an enforceable ordinance.

“We always try to work closely and collaboratively with the Police Department as best we can,” said Waldrop, “but in matters such as this, we go above and beyond to do it because this is effectively a tool they will primarily be responsible for implementing.”

Conyers Deputy Police Chief Scott Freeman said the prohibitions in the ordinance are all “grounded in the safety issue.” He added that the ordinance was well-researched and well-grounded in U.S. Supreme Court decisions in order to ensure the protection of First Amendment rights.

Conyers follows other cities like Atlanta, Rome and Gainesville that have approved urban camping ordinances over the past couple of years.

According to the state Department of Community Affairs point in time count, Rockdale had 20 unsheltered homeless persons in 2019 and 52 sheltered homeless person. The point in time count is conducted very other year in January; however, the count was not conducted this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Lt. Jay Archer is employee of the year for Conyers
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CONYERS — Even after 23 years on the job with the Conyers Police Department, Lt. Jay Archer says he can’t imagine a more rewarding job.

Archer, who has served in multiple roles with the CPD over the years, was honored last week with the city’s Dee Buggay Award of Excellence, with is essentially the city’s annual employee of the year award. The honor is named after the city’s long-time human resources director, who died last year.

Archer grew up in Conyers and graduated from Heritage High School before joining the CPD in January 1988. Since that time he has served as an officer, sergeant, patrol officer, school resource officer, special operations commander and now lieutenant who oversees training.

In accepting the award, which was presented at the City Council’s Feb. 17 meeting, Archer thanked his family for “sharing” him with the city over the years, noting that police officers’ work often means they miss birthdays, holidays and other family occasions.

Despite those realities, Archer said, “I never could have imagined the job being as rewarding as it is.”

During his hours in uniform going from call to call, Archer said he’s seen and experienced a lot.

“I’ve delivered two kids in Conyers while on patrol,” he said. “You see death, you see everything in between.”

Through his myriad responsibilities, Archer said he has held true to one overriding principle.

“I learned at times what to do and also at times what not to do,” he said. “In my career, I have done many things, and not one time do I look back at my days and wonder why did I do that? I always looked at ways to do things in the best way possible, not only for myself but also for others. That is what a good supervisor should do. … If you always do things the right way for the right reason at the right time, how can you go wrong?”

Now that he’s in charge of training for CPD, Archer is responsible for initiating new employees.

“When new employees come into my office for the first time … I encourage them to be whatever they want with this agency,” he said. “I always welcome them and try to be that friendly face and that welcoming attitude. I remember what it was like to be the new person or the new hire 20 years ago.”

Archer and his wife, Kristy, have three sons, Cody, Dawson and Montana.

In addition to the Dee Buggay Award, the city also presented its PEACH Award, which stands for Positive Employees Are Conyers’ Heartbeat.

The award was given to Darlene Thomas, who is the customer service manager for the Finance Department and for Conyers Security Alert.

City Manager Tony Lucas described Thomas as an outstanding employee with a positive, outgoing attitude that reflects positively on the city.

“Darlene will always go out of her way to make sure customers have exactly what they need,” he said.

Rockdale County, Citizens Progressive Club host virtual town hall about COVID-19
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CONYERS – Rockdale County and the Citizens Progressive Club will partner this Thursday to present a virtual town hall meeting titled Dispelling the Myths, Fears and Phobias related to the COVID-19 vaccine. The event will be presented from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on the Rockdale County Facebook video channel at www.facebook.com/rockdalegov, the Rockdale County website at www.rockdalecountyga.gov, and the Rockdale 23 YouTube page. Questions to the speakers can be submitted via the comments during the live event on Facebook.

Viewers can expect to hear presentations from Dr. Alvin Griffin of Conyers; Dr. Bonnie Word of Texas, specializing in pediatric infectious diseases and travel medicine; and Dr. Kenneston Carr of California.

The Rev. Al Sadler said the virtual town hall grew out of a Progressive Club discussion in December on the need to get information about the vaccine out to the public. The Progressive Club saw the need to partner in this effort, Sadler said, and asked Rockdale County if officials would be interested in joining with them to provide information on a large scale where people could hear from experts.

Sadler said the hope in particular is to reach the African American and Hispanic communities where there is more skepticism about the vaccine. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 43% of Black adults said they would rather “wait and see” before getting vaccinated, compared to 31% in the general population. Twenty-one percent said they definitely would not get inoculated, unless required to do so for work, school or other activities.

In addition, according to a new demographic analysis from the CDC, Blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented among people vaccinated in the United States. In the first month of the national vaccine rollout, only 5.4 percent of recipients were Black, and 11.5 percent were Hispanic, although those demographic groups make up 13.4 and 16.7 percent of the population, respectively.

Sadler said he has encountered vaccine reluctance in his church community.

“I’m hearing it,” he said. “That’s another reason whey we wanted to try to get the best information possible out to people so they can make informed decisions. I personally believe that the better information you have, the better decisions you can make.”

For more information contact Al Sadler at 404-374-0585.

Coroner hires attorney, asks Newton County to pay legal fees
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COVINGTON — Newton County’s controversial coroner has hired a Fayetteville attorney to defend her against an effort by the county to remove her from office.

In a Friday email to the Citizen, attorney Wayne Kendall, who said he represents Coroner Dorothea Bailey-Butts, called the effort to remove Bailey-Butts a smear campaign, criticized local media coverage as “one-sided” and described a petition filed by County Manager Lloyd Kerr to remove Bailey-Butts from office as “hearsay.”

Kerr filed a petition Jan. 29 with the state Coroner’s Training Council to remove Bailey-Butts, alleging several incidents of misconduct.

Bailey-Butts subsequently informed Newton County Commission Chairman Marcello Banes that she expects the county to pay for her legal defense against the county’s efforts to have her removed.

In a Feb. 10 letter to Banes, obtained by the Citizen through an Open Records Act request, Bailey-Butts asks that the county provide the “payment of an attorney of my choice as legal counsel in defending the Office of the Coroner against these baseless claims…”

Bailey-Butts requested a response by Friday, Feb. 12. In a follow-up letter to Banes, Bailey-Butts said that since she had not heard from the county, and due to the “urgent need to retain legal counsel, please be advised that I will engage counsel to defend against the allegations of official misconduct.”

Bailey-Butts added that, since the allegations appear to be made by the county and not by Kerr individually, “I will expect Newton County to cover my legal expenses.”

In a brief email on Feb. 17, Banes replied that he had forwarded Bailey-Butts’ letter to the county attorney.

Bailey-Butts was elected in November and took office on Jan. 1.

In his petition to the Georgia Coroner’s Training Council, Kerr alleges that Bailey-Butts mishandled several cases in January, including an auto fatality, the death of a guest at the Hampton Inn in Covington, and the suicide of a 13-year-old boy. According to Kerr’s petition, Bailey-Butts, who refers to herself as Madam Coroner, “has demonstrated that she is wholly unable to competently serve as the county’s coroner.”

Under a law passed in 2019, the Coroner’s Training Council has the authority to review complaints regarding coroners and make recommendations concerning their retention, suspension or removal and to withdraw or suspend a coroner’s certification.

In addition to the allegations of misconduct, the county alleges Bailey-Butts mismanaged the operation of her office by employing three deputy coroners who did not go through the county’s hiring process before beginning work.

In a Monday email to the Citizen, attorney Kendall said he understands why Bailey-Butts has declined to speak with local media regarding the county’s allegations.

“It seems that she and other members of the African American community that I have spoken to do not feel that when it comes to African American political leaders there exists fair and unbiased local media coverage,” wrote Kendall. “Hence, their apprehension in speaking to local media.”

Kendall said he has filed an Open Records Act request with the county for any county correspondence, beginning Aug. 1, 2020, concerning or related to Bailey-Butts.

If the county’s petition to remove Bailey-Butts is successful, Kerr has said he believes the county would be able to hold a special election to fill the coroner’s position.

Bailey-Butts, a Democrat, defeated long-time coroner Tommy Davis, a Republican, in the November General Election.