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GBI investigating officer involved shooting in Covington
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COVINGTON — A man involved in a domestic violence incident Wednesday night was shot and killed by Covington Police officers after he took an officer’s Taser as they struggled to detain him.

According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Johnny Michael Gilbert, 43, was shot when he violently resisted arrest at a home on Spillers Road. The woman who lives at the residence had reported a domestic violence incident involving Gilbert to the 911 center at around 8:50 p.m. Police responded, but Gilbert had left before officers arrived. After speaking with the woman and ensuring that she did not need medical attention, the officers advised her to call 911 if Gilbert returned.

The 911 center received a second call shortly before 10:30 p.m. stating that Gilbert had returned and was violent. Officers responded again and met Gilbert outside the residence. As officers were attempting to detain the suspect, he began to violently resist. One of the officers fired a Taser at Gilbert, but it was ineffective. As officers struggled with Gilbert, he took an officer’s Taser and began to rise to his feet. This prompted one of the officers to fire a handgun at Gilbert, hitting him at least once. Gilbert was treated at the scene and transported to a nearby hospital where he later died.

The GBI will continue to conduct an independent investigation. Once complete, the case file will be provided to the Newton County District Attorney’ Office for review. The Covington Police Department is investigating the domestic incident.

This is the 83rd officer involved shooting the GBI has been requested to investigate in 2021.

Barksdale Elementary students learn to ride with Strider bike donation
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CONYERS — Barksdale Elementary’s youngest will be riding on two wheels in no time thanks to a donation from Progressive IMS Outdoors, the nation’s largest motorcycle event, and the nonprofit All Kids Bike. This donation to the Barksdale Elementary School PE class, worth $5,000, includes 24 Strider bicycles, 24 helmets, an adult teaching bicycle, equipment, a five-year subscription to the Learn-to-Ride curriculum for pre-k and kindergarten and more.

With Strider bicycles, children learn to balance on two wheels while propelling themselves by their feet. When they are ready to transition, pedals and chains are placed on the bikes. IMS Outdoors and All Kids Bike representatives presented the donation to a cheering and excited crowd of BES pre-k students on Oct. 28. Barksdale is one of only eight schools in the nation selected for this grant by IMS Outdoors, which held the Progressive IMS Outdoors Motorcycle Show at the Georgia International Horse Park Oct. 29-31.

“We could not be more excited to share our passion for two wheels and provide the kids of Barksdale Elementary School a life-long skill of bike riding,” said Ryan McFarland, CEO of Strider and chairman of All Kids Bike.

“It’s is our mission to get kids across America on two wheels,” said Senior Vice President of Progressive IMS Outdoors Tracy Harris. “We are so excited to bring this opportunity to the kids of the Barksdale Elementary School in partnership with IMS. There is nothing like the smile on a kid’s face when they master the art of balance for the first time.”

Rockdale County proposing a budget of $83.1 million for 2022
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CONYERS — The Rockdale County Board of Commissioners is proposing an $83,160,501 general fund budget for 2022. The proposed budget is $1,757,926 greater than the current revised 2021 budget of $81,402,575, and includes $2.8 million in ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds.

The overall county budget is $150,545,807 and includes the Water Resources Fund, Storm Water Fund, and Special Revenue Funds and Debt Service Funds.

Finance Director Mark Lewis, who came to Rockdale County in June from Oregon, following the county’s 10-month search for a new chief financial officer, presented the proposed general fund budget.

Lewis said budget highlights include:

♦ No tax increases — In August the BOC approved, for the second year in a row, taking the property tax rollback rate, which keeps property taxes at the same rate they were the year before. The BOC has warned that it will not be able to take the rollback rate again next year.

♦ No use of reserve funds to balance the budget.

♦ More focus on use of technology.

♦ More focus on COVID vaccinations.

♦ More focus on economic and infrastructure development.

Taxes make up 64% of the revenues in the budget, with HOST revenues paying 25%, charges for services paying 6%, fines and forfeitures paying 3%, ARPA funds paying 1%, and licenses and permits paying 1%.

Salaries and benefits make up the majority of the general fund expenditures at 65%. Purchased and contracted services are 22%, supplies are 9%, and indirect costs are 4%.

Public Safety, which includes the Sheriff’s Office, Fire Rescue, E911, EMA, EMS, Coroner, and Animal Services, has the largest operating budget of $40,733,654, with the Sheriff’s Office taking 61% of that.

General Government, made up of the Board of Commissioners and 12 departments, gets the next highest portion at $24,370,356. The Maintenance Department gets 24% of it, followed by Finance at 22% and Technology Services at 17%.

Court Services receives $8,959,897, with the Clerk of Courts getting 27%, followed by the District Attorney with 21%.

Cultural and Recreation, which is made up of Parks and Recreation, Libraries, and Senior Services, receives $5,474,219, with Parks and Recreation receiving 65%.

Transportation receives $3,622,374.

Following the presentation, Post 2 Commissioner Doreen Williams noted that without the ARPA funds, the 2022 budget would be lower than the current budget.

“I just did a quick calculation,” she said. “You know the budget last year was $81.4 million and this year it is $83.1 million. But we have $2.6 million ARPA funds, so I subtracted those ARPA funds from our budget this year, which leaves us with $80.3 million. So without those ARPA funds, our budget is lower than last year.”

Post 1 Commissioner Sherri Washington stated that the rollback property tax rate the BOC took in August at the request of residents had an impact on this budget in terms of personnel and services and said the county may have to cut some things they done in the past in order to maintain personnel and deliver services.

“I don’t want people to think that everything is rosy in this budget, because it is not, because we made the hard decision to take the rollback rate, and that is also going affect what we can do for our personnel in the future,” Washington said. “That means that we’re still below market rate in our pay rates. We’re not going to be able to get people up to market rate this year, and that’s disheartening.”

Commission Chair Oz Nesbitt Sr. agreed with Washington that not being able to pay employees the market rate in salaries is very critical in the current workforce climate.

“We were already trying to find qualified, competent talent before the pandemic,” Nesbitt said. “Now people are going to have a lot more options, and it’s really going to make it tough when we’re not able to keep our employees at market rate, because they’re going to look at what they’re getting paid here in Rockdale County, they’re going to compare it with other entities, counties and businesses, and people have to bring food home and put it on the table, and they’re going to make a decision. My prayer is that we don’t lose qualified folks here in Rockdale County. But there is an impact in listening to our citizens regarding the rollback, and we cannot continue to move in that same direction, or there will be an impact on the delivery of services. There’s no way around it.”

Corliss Turner was the only citizen to speak at the public hearing, and she pleaded with the BOC to bring more commercial businesses into the county rather than continue to put the tax burden on residents.

Following is the remaining schedule for the budget hearings:

♦ Tuesday, Nov. 9, 10 a.m. — First reading of the 2022 Appropriations Ordinance.

♦ Tuesday, Dec. 14, 10 a.m. — Second reading and adoption of the 2022 Appropriations Ordinance.

These meetings will be held in the Assembly Hall located at 901 Main St. in Conyers.

A copy of the proposed 2022 Appropriations Ordinance is available for inspection on the Rockdale County Website at www.rockdalecountyga.gov.

HOSPITAL HERO: Donna Solomon
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The Rockdale Citizen and Newton Citizen are shining a spotlight on the Hospital Heroes at Piedmont Rockdale and Piedmont Newton hospitals who are giving their all to provide a high level of essential health care services during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In this edition, we are honoring Donna Solomon at Piedmont Rockdale Hospital. Here’s what Donna’s colleagues say about her:

Donna Solomon, a unit secretary at Piedmont Rockdale Hospital, always makes sure that her unit runs smoothly. She makes all new staff and anyone who is floated to the unit feel welcome. Everyone at the hospital truly appreciates all her hard work.

Newton Chairman Banes uses veto power to renew county manager appointment
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Lloyd Kerr

Marcello Banes

COVINGTON — Newton County Commission Chairman Marcello Banes Tuesday night signaled he will exercise his veto power in order to renew the appointment of County Manager Lloyd Kerr.

Banes promised to veto a 3-2 vote opposing the one-year renewal of Kerr’s contract. The vote not to renew fell along party lines, with Democrats Demond Mason, District 2, Alana Sanders, District 3, and J.C. Henderson, District 4, voting no. Republicans Stan Edwards, District 1, and Ronnie Cowan, District 5, voted to renew.

As required by the county’s enabling legislation, Banes, who is also a Democrat, advised commissioners that he will notify them in writing of the veto, and Kerr’s appointment renewal will be placed on the Dec. 7 agenda. Under the county’s charter, the chairman has the power to veto a 3-2 vote. A veto can be overridden only by a super majority vote of 4-1.

Banes said Tuesday night that, due to Kerr’s leadership, the county is in better financial shape than it has been in many years. Banes said under Kerr’s management the county has rebuilt its reserves to the level recommended by the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.

“We have close to five months of operating funds, and that’s because of Mr. Kerr’s leadership,” said Banes. “And I can tell you this, if you don’t like the form of government, then you change the form of government. The way the form of government reads right now, the chairman is the CEO and the county manager is the chief operating officer of the county. … This county is in better shape now than it has been in the history of this county … look at our credit rating; it is in better shape than it’s ever been.”

Sanders vowed that she would work at the state level to change the county’s enabling legislation and the chairman’s veto power.

“To me ‘no’ does not mean ‘no’; it means go beyond the power that is on this level and go above and change what needs to be changed,” said Sanders.

Kerr’s new contract provides for an annual base salary of $155,000, a $500 per month car allowance, and contributions to retirement and insurance funds. If Kerr is fired, he will receive nine months of severance pay. The primary change to Kerr’s contract from the previous year is the increase in base pay from $135,000 annually to $155,000.

The provision of severance pay was a key objection for Sanders. She said it does not protect the county if the county manager “is not a good fit” for the county.

Kerr is entering the final year of a three-year contract. He comes up for reappointment each year of the contract.

Kerr was last reappointed in January 2020 by a unanimous vote of the Board of Commissioners. Sanders is the only current member who was not on the board last January.

Henderson said Tuesday night that he had not voted for Kerr’s current contract and implied that it was written without full board knowledge. However, in 2019, Henderson was among the five commissioners who unanimously approved the current contract. In addition, last January when Kerr’s appointment was renewed, Henderson praised his work.

“He has really made District 4 look good,” Henderson said at the time. “I am very appreciative. I thank him, and may he continue to work with us.”

Kerr has recently come under fire — primarily by Sanders and Henderson — over his plan to hire a consultant to oversee distribution of more than $10 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds. Sanders and Henderson have complained that Kerr’s plan is taking too long to get money to their constituents. Kerr has maintained that the county does not have sufficient in-house staff to oversee the funding program and that it is more fiscally responsible to hire a third party to handle the distribution. He issued a request for proposals from consultants in August and has received about 110 responses. Kerr said the period to respond to the RFP will close in about two weeks.

To expedite distribution of federal funds, commissioners voted Monday night to allocate $1 million to each district, with the recipients of funds to be determined by each district’s commissioner. Kerr said managing five different distribution programs will be problematic.

“Without all the safeguards in place, I could not in good conscience sign off those nor could I expect any of my employees to sign off any of those disbursements unless we had everything in place that would need to be in place,” said Kerr, adding he would gladly have a consultant manage those disbursements.

Henderson responded that the management should be Kerr’s responsibility. “It is supposed to be your job whatever we ask you to do, within reason, for you to consult with our (legal) counsel … to help you or assist you for the objective we ask you to do.”

Henderson reiterated a suggestion he has made twice previously to hire former county attorney Tommy Craig to oversee the distribution. Craig was fired by the county in 2015 under a cloud of controversy but still represents the Tax Commissioner’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office.

Acting county attorney Patrick Jaugstetter said “it is not in the county’s interest to have the attorney manage a program like this, whether it’s this attorney or any other attorney. … attorneys are not equipped to manage financial programs like this. That is an invitation for disaster.

“I could certainly hire somebody (to oversee the disbursement),” Jaugstetter added. “But what I would do is exactly what Mr. Kerr is doing … to make sure I am hiring the most qualified person at the best price.”