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Newton commissioners ask judge to decide back pay issue for Chairman Banes, Judge Bell

COVINGTON — The Newton County Board of Commissioners has asked that a judge decide who is right in a dispute over how certain county officials’ pay is calculated. The county has filed a complaint for declaratory relief against Chairman Marcello Banes and Probate Court Judge Melanie Bell in Newton County Superior Court. Attorney Erik O’Brien, with the law firm Buckley Christopher in Atlanta, will represent the county. The county is seeking a ruling on whether or not compensation for the constitutional officers and the chairman of the Board of Commissioners has been incorrectly calculated since 1994. Banes and Bell brought a demand for payment for “salary deficiencies” to the commissioners in September. Each claims that they have been underpaid since taking office four years ago and that each is owed a minimum of $180,000. The salary issue came to light after commissioners agreed this summer to give Banes the same percentage pay increase given to other county employees. However, County Attorney Megan Martin advised commissioners that the chairman’s pay is governed by statute, and his compensation cannot be changed in the same manner as a county employee’s.

COVINGTON — The Newton County Board of Commissioners has asked that a judge decide who is right in a dispute over how certain county officials’ pay is calculated.

The county has filed a complaint for declaratory relief against Chairman Marcello Banes and Probate Court Judge Melanie Bell in Newton County Superior Court. Attorney Erik O’Brien, with the law firm Buckley Christopher in Atlanta, will represent the county.

The county is seeking a ruling on whether or not compensation for the constitutional officers and the chairman of the Board of Commissioners has been incorrectly calculated since 1994. Banes and Bell brought a demand for payment for “salary deficiencies” to the commissioners in September. Each claims that they have been underpaid since taking office four years ago and that each is owed a minimum of $180,000.

The salary issue came to light after commissioners agreed this summer to give Banes the same percentage pay increase given to other county employees. However, County Attorney Megan Martin advised commissioners that the chairman’s pay is governed by statute, and his compensation cannot be changed in the same manner as a county employee’s.

Attorney Stephanie Lindsey, who represents Banes and Bell, delved into the compensation issue and came up with a calculation different from the county’s based on changes in the compensation legislation over the years. Lindsey asserts that Banes’ annual pay should have been $144,733 when he first took office in 2017, increasing to $148,519 in 2020, and that Bell’s compensation should have been $144,733 in 2017, increasing to $148,519 in 2020. Instead, according to Lindsey, Banes was paid $99,023 in 2017, which increased to $101,003 in 2020; Bell was paid $99,023 in 2017, which increased to $103,023 in 2020.

Lindsey told commissioners at a work session in September that failing to pay the back wages is a willful violation of law.

Newton County Attorney Megan Martin told commissioners that she has submitted clarifying legislation to the local delegation for the past five years. However, the bill was never passed. In the last session of the General Assembly, the bill, HB 1170, passed out of the House but was tabled in the Senate by Sen. Brian Strickland, apparently because he mistakenly believed it contained a pay increase for county officials. Other legislators have also said they didn’t fully understand the bill.

The county is working to craft a new bill clarifying the compensation issue that officials hope to get passed in the near future — either in a special session this year, if one is called by the governor, or in the next session of the General Assembly in early 2021. A work session to discuss the new legislation is set for Tuesday, Oct. 20, 6 p.m., at the Historic Courthouse.


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Snapping Shoals holds annual meeting on wheels
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CONYERS — The 82nd version of Snapping Shoals Electric Membership Corp.’s annual meeting was unlike any other. Due to the COVID-19 health crisis, the annual meeting was held as a drive-through event at the Georgia International Horse Park.

Beginning at 8 a.m. Tuesday, thousands of EMC members drove through a registration checkpoint and then on to a tented station where they were given the yellow bucket members have come to know and love. About 1,500 buckets were handed out.

Each year the bucket holds a few small gifts. This year’s bucket contained some lightbulbs and a notice that registered attendees would receive a $20 credit on their power bill. In a prize drawing held later at SSEMC headquarters, 75 registered members received a $50 bill credit. The grand prize of the day — a 2003 Ford Ranger pickup truck — was won by Gary Esslinger of Newton County.

Snapping Shoals serves nearly 100,000 member accounts across eight counties — Henry, Walton, Newton, DeKalb, Morgan, Rockdale, Butts and Jasper.


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Kemp appoints McCamy to Alcovy Judicial Circuit judgeship

COVINGTON — Cheveda McCamy, a prosecutor in Henry County, has been appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp to fill the Alcovy Judicial Circuit vacancy created by the death of Judge Horace Johnson Jr. “It truly is an honor to be selected to serve my community as your next Superior Court judge,” said McCamy in a released statement Thursday. “I am excited to bring my energy, experience and vision to the court system in Newton and Walton counties. Thank you to Gov. Kemp for having confidence in me to follow the legacy of fairness and justice that Judge Johnson embodied in the Alcovy Circuit. I am grateful to my family, my colleagues and everyone who supported me in this journey. Together with our community, I will ensure that my courtroom is a place where all voices are heard.” McCamy’s swearing-in ceremony will be held Oct. 26 at the Capitol. The ceremony will be private due to health and safety concerns.

COVINGTON — Cheveda McCamy, a prosecutor in Henry County, has been appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp to fill the Alcovy Judicial Circuit vacancy created by the death of Judge Horace Johnson Jr.

“It truly is an honor to be selected to serve my community as your next Superior Court judge,” said McCamy in a released statement Thursday. “I am excited to bring my energy, experience and vision to the court system in Newton and Walton counties. Thank you to Gov. Kemp for having confidence in me to follow the legacy of fairness and justice that Judge Johnson embodied in the Alcovy Circuit. I am grateful to my family, my colleagues and everyone who supported me in this journey. Together with our community, I will ensure that my courtroom is a place where all voices are heard.”

McCamy’s swearing-in ceremony will be held Oct. 26 at the Capitol. The ceremony will be private due to health and safety concerns.

McCamy had sought election to the judgeship vacated by the retirement of Judge Eugene Benton, but finished third in a three-way race in the June primary election. A Covington resident, McCamy carried Newton County with 40 percent of ballots cast in Newton. The Alcovy Circuit is made up of Newton and Walton counties.

McCamy is the second Superior Court judge in the Alcovy Circuit appointed by Kemp in the last five months. In May, Kemp appointed former Alcovy Circuit District Attorney Layla Zon to fill the unexpired term of Judge Samuel Ozburn, who retired last spring.

McCamy most recently served as chief assistant district attorney in Henry County. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Georgia and law degree from Mercer University. As an associate attorney, she worked at Hall, Booth, Smith & Slover P.C. and Lisa R. Roberts & Associates. McCamy later transitioned to the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office, where she served as a senior assistant district attorney. She served in that same role with the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office before becoming the chief assistant district attorney with the Henry County District Attorney’s Office.

She is a member of the NewRock Legal Society, Newton County Bar Association, Walton County Bar Association, Henry County Bar Association, Georgia Association of Women Lawyers, Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys, National District Attorneys Association, and the National Black Prosecutors Association.


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Rockdale Elections adds Springfield Baptist Church as second early voting location

CONYERS — Beginning Monday, Oct. 19, Rockdale County voters will have a second early voting location where they can cast their ballots in the Nov. 3 General Election. The Board of Elections unanimously approved opening a second voting location at Springfield Baptist Church, 1877 Iris Drive, during a called meeting on Oct. 14. Georgia set an early voting record turnout of 128,876 on Monday, Oct. 12, and added 114,830 on Tuesday, Oct. 13, for a two-day total of 241,706. But many voters across the state had to wait in long lines for up to 11 hours to vote, due to the state voter registration system being flooded with too many voter verifications at one time.

CONYERS — Beginning Monday, Oct. 19, Rockdale County voters will have a second early voting location where they can cast their ballots in the Nov. 3 General Election. The Board of Elections unanimously approved opening a second voting location at Springfield Baptist Church, 1877 Iris Drive, during a called meeting on Oct. 14.

Georgia set an early voting record turnout of 128,876 on Monday, Oct. 12, and added 114,830 on Tuesday, Oct. 13, for a two-day total of 241,706. But many voters across the state had to wait in long lines for up to 11 hours to vote, due to the state voter registration system being flooded with too many voter verifications at one time.


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Newton Election Board working to reduce voter wait times (copy)

COVINGTON — The Newton County Board of Elections has more than doubled the number of check-in stations at the early voting location at the county Administration Building in an effort to speed up early voter wait times. Newton and many other counties are experiencing a record level of voter participation in early voting and mail-in absentee ballots. According to the Board of Elections, as of the end of the day Wednesday, Newton County had mailed out more than 17,761 absentee ballots and had 2,508 voters cast ballots in advance in-person voting.

COVINGTON — The Newton County Board of Elections has more than doubled the number of check-in stations at the early voting location at the county Administration Building in an effort to speed up early voter wait times.

Newton and many other counties are experiencing a record level of voter participation in early voting and mail-in absentee ballots. According to the Board of Elections, as of the end of the day Wednesday, Newton County had mailed out more than 17,761 absentee ballots and had 2,508 voters cast ballots in advance in-person voting.