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Cousins Middle School temporarily closed due to COVID-19
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COVINGTON — Cousins Middle School is temporarily closing for in-person learning due to COVID-19 cases. The closing took effect at the end of the school day on Wednesday. Reopening is tentatively scheduled for Monday, Nov. 30. This decision was made in consultation with the school system’s COVID-19 Response Team and the Georgia Department of Public Health.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there was one confirmed positive COVID-19 case at the school and several presumed positive cases. As a result, there are approximately 25 other staff members who will likely need to be quarantined.

All in-person students at Cousins Middle School will stay home from school until the scheduled reopening on Monday Nov. 30. Teachers were instructed to spend Thursday and Friday preparing for the shift to virtual learning. Deep cleaning of the building was set for Wednesday evening.

Virtual learning, through the Canvas learning management system, will begin on Monday, Nov. 16 for students transitioning to the virtual model. All teachers will return to the building on the same day. This closure has no effect on students participating in virtual learning.

Students who need to pick up medication or other items that they must have during the next two weeks should call the school’s front office to make an appointment. In addition, students may obtain a free breakfast or lunch meal at any school location. The school system will provide more information in a later call on procedures for borrowing technology devices during the school closure.

The closing of Cousins Middle School is a precaution as the school system works to ensure in-person learning can continue in other schools. School officials anticipate there will be additional quarantines and school closures during the pandemic. The community at large is encouraged to work together: stay home when you’re sick; get tested if you’re symptomatic; report your child’s positive test to their school; if you are directed to quarantine, follow the instructions and limit interaction with non-family members; socially distance, and wear a mask when in public.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp makes record-breaking announcement at Bridgestone in Covington
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COVINGTON — Gov. Brian Kemp chose Bridgestone Golf in Covington as the site to announce that Georgia — for a record-breaking eighth year in a row — has been named the No. 1 state for business by Site Selection magazine. Kemp connected the announcement Thursday with the kickoff of the 2020 Masters Tournament in Augusta.

“I can tell you that other than Augusta National, there is probably nowhere better to be today than at this facility during the week of the fall Masters Tournament,” said Kemp.

Georgia shares the “best for business” title this year with North Carolina, making this the first time the magazine has named co-winners of the award. The title is based on the magazine’s survey of corporate executives and site selectors and on an index of project counts and other criteria.

Kemp commended Bridgestone, a manufacturer of golf balls, for its participation in the Georgia Made Program and for its success in signing with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau.

“As you know, Tiger’s the reigning Masters champ and Bryson just won the U.S. Open, and they both have relied on Georgia-made golf balls for their recent major wins,” said Kemp. “So we need to spread that message far and wide to other professionals that are out there and amateurs like myself.”

Kemp also touted the state’s “measured approach” to the COVID-19 pandemic for keeping Georgia in a favorable position for economic development. A focus on creating a business-friendly environment and workforce development has made Georgia model for the rest of the nation, he said.

“It means that great innovative companies, like Bridgestone, know that the best location for them to grow and thrive is right here in Georgia. And more than that, it means that more good news, more jobs and more opportunities are on their way for hardworking Georgians in every corner of the state.”

PHOTOS: Gov. Kemp announces Georgia is first in business again

Dan Murphy, president and CEO of Bridgestone Golf, said the state’s handling of the pandemic helped to propel Bridgestone to its best year since locating in Covington 30 years ago. After a dismal outlook in March, Murphy said Bridgestone saw a surge in interest in golf.

“What happened in the month of May is that golf became a safe haven, it became a place where people could go and get some recreation,” said Murphy. “So, all of a sudden, what looked like disaster became opportunity. Because of the leadership of the state ... the way that things unfolded for us turned out to be a very good year. We are having a record year in sales and profits. Of all those 30 years this is the No. 1 year. And the reason why is because when opportunity knocked, we were able to get back to business quicker and sooner than our competition.”

According to the Site Selection magazine survey, the top 10 criteria in selecting a business location are:

♦ Workforce skills

♦ Workforce development

♦ Transportation infrastructure

♦ Ease of permitting and regulatory procedures

♦ State and local tax scheme

♦ Right-to-work state

♦ Utilities (cost, reliability)

♦ Quality of life

♦ Incentives

♦ Legal climate (tort reform)

Pat Wilson, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said Georgia’s investments in transportation, logistics and infrastructure help to create an environment of certainty that continues to draw new businesses.

“We continue to outpace all of our numbers from last year, said Wilson. “And so if you look at the headwinds globally, the things that are going on internationally — whether it’s trade disputes, COVID-19 — it is amazing that we continue to produce numbers and investments that are way higher than we have ever experienced during in the same window before.”

Derek Bogan named new director of Rockdale Water Resources
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CONYERS — Derek Bogan was unanimously approved as the new director of Rockdale Water Resources by the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners during its Nov. 10 meeting. Bogan has been serving as deputy director of RWR since he was hired in October 2019.

Bogan becomes the first actual director of RWR since Angie Luna was appointed in December 2018 and left barely a month later in January 2019. Since that time, Dr. Terrell Gibbs, who has been and will continue to be a consultant for RWR, served as acting director.

Toni Holmes, director of Talent Management for the county, presented Bogan to the BOC.

“He comes to us with over 31 years of experience, not only in water resources, but also in stormwater, public utilities and public works,” Holmes said. “Bogan has served in multiple leadership roles in the city of East Point, as well as Clayton County government.

“Bogan has a bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering Technology from Georgia Southern University. He also has several certifications. He is a member of the Georgia Association of Water Professionals and the Water Environment Federation.”

District 1 Commissioner Sherri Washington made a motion to appoint Bogan as director of RWR. District 2 Commissioner Dr. Doreen Williams seconded the motion, and it was approved 3-0.

Following the vote, Bogan thanked the commissioners and their staff for all the support he has received since he came to Rockdale County.

“I’ve very excited about the appointment,” he said, “and looking forward to using my knowledge and experience in advancing the department.”

Washington stated she has known Bogan since 1999 when both of them worked for the city of East Point and is excited to have him as director of RWR.

“I have seen the way he has managed his staff, the way they respect and admire him, the way that he systematically gets the job done and does it in such a professional manner that you don’t even really know that there was a problem,” Washington said. “He is so solution-oriented. It is my absolute pleasure to have Mr. Bogan here as director of our Water Resources Department, and I look forward to the great things that I know he is going to do for this county.”

Williams welcomed Bogan and stated she is excited that RWR finally has a director.

Commission Chair Oz Nesbitt Sr. said that when the opportunity arises to promote from within, Rockdale County takes that opportunity. He added that they also plan to promote another RWR employee to deputy director in the near future.

Bogan is taking over at a busy time for Rockdale Water Resources, which recently completed the renovation of the old BB&T bank building on Main Street for its customer service department and is in the process of having a new $24.9 million wastewater treatment plant constructed which, when completed, will add 2.55 million gallons per day of treatment capacity to the county’s wastewater treatment system.

Rockdale County was awarded a $27 million Clean Water State Revolving Fund loan by the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority in 2018 in order to fund construction of the new plant, and in 2017 the BOC approved an increase in water usage fees by 6 percent a year over the next five years, starting in 2018, with the additional revenue to be used to pay the loan. The county will pay 1.8% interest on the loan.

And in October, Rockdale County refinanced debt related to the water and sewerage system. The county issued new bonds to pay off older higher interest bonds resulting in a savings of $2.8 million.

Elections officials begin recount, refute voter fraud claim
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COVINGTON — Local elections officials are working to carry out a state-mandated recount in the presidential election and to address allegations of voting irregularities.

Philip Johnson, chairman of Newton County’s Board of Elections, said county elections employees began the hand recount Friday and will work through the weekend to carry out the recount of presidential election ballots ordered by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

In addition, Newton County issued a statement Thursday refuting a media report that a deceased Newton County resident had voted in the General Election. According to the county, the widow of James E. Blalock Jr. has always voted under the name of Mrs. James E. Blalock Jr. Mr. Blalock died in 2006, and his name was purged from the voter rolls. Mrs. Blalock continued to vote under her married name. According to the county, “The Secretary of State’s data base does not pick up the prefix of ‘Mrs.,’ and a check in her profile shows she is a female. Her signature on the records reflects that her voter registration was signed as Mrs. James E. Blalock Jr., and that is exactly how she signed her name when she voted in the Nov. 3. General Election.”

Raffensperger on Wednesday announced that the state would conduct a hand recount of the nearly 5 million ballots cast in the 2020 presidential race. Roughly 14,000 votes separate President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

“With the margin being so close, it will require a full by hand recount in each county,” said Raffensperger, a Republican. “This will help build confidence.

“It will be an audit, a recount and a re-canvas all at once,” he added.

Raffensperger formally called for the recount as part of a regular audit of the election results, which were poised to be done via an electronic sampling of ballots before Raffensperger revised the process under emergency powers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Johnson said under guidance from the state, the recount — or risk-limiting audit — must be completed by midnight on Nov. 18. The Newton Board of Elections has set a schedule for the recount as follows: 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13, Monday, Nov. 16, Tuesday, Nov. 17, and Wednesday, Nov. 18, or until finished that day. The hours for Saturday, Nov. 14, and Sunday, Nov. 15, are 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The recount will take place in the Newton County Board of Elections and Registration Office at 1113 Usher St., Suite 103 Covington .

Each party will have two monitors present during the recount process, as well as one member of the Vote Review Panel from each party.

“This process will be totally transparent,” said Johnson in an email. “We will admit the parties’ monitors, the press and the public to watch the process. We do require that the observers not speak to the Audit Panel members or interrupt the process.”

Cynthia Willingham, supervisor of elections in Rockdale County, said the Rockdale recount will take place at the J.P. Carr Gym at 90 Hardin St., Conyers. The recount was set to begin at 9 a.m. on Friday and continue until concluded by midnight, Nov. 18.

Willingham said it is difficult to know how long it will take to recount 44,942 ballots cast in Rockdale County since they are working with a new voting system.

A recount of this magnitude has not been conducted before in Georgia and follows record turnout in the Nov. 3 General Election. Raffensperger said the hand count should instill confidence in the final election results amid growing – and unproven – accusations of voter fraud.

“We understand the significance of this for not just Georgia but for every single American,” Raffensperger said. “At the end of the day, when we do a hand count, then we can answer the question of exactly what was the final margin in this race.”