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Election Day arrives at last; early turnout heavy in Newton, steady in Rockdale
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COVINGTON — Voters in Rockdale and Newton counties who waited until Election Day to cast their ballots turned out Tuesday, with some precincts in Newton — where a number of local races are on the ballot — seeing long lines and wait times early in the day.

At the Hub Precinct in eastern Newton County, one of the county’s smaller precincts, a long line formed outside the Berean Baptist Church and cars were parked on the shoulder of U.S. Highway 278. One long-time voter said this is the first time he has ever seen a line waiting to vote at that precinct.

A little further west, at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church, voters were waiting about an hour to cast their ballots. Newton County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Huenke, who was assigned to oversee the polling place, said the first voter in line Tuesday morning had arrived at about 5:30.

Across the county line in Rockdale, where no local races are on the ballot, polling was a little slower. Visits to three precincts — Fieldstone, Olde Town and St. Pius — showed no lines and uncrowded parking lots as of about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

“We had a little rush first thing this morning and expect to have one close to closing time this evening,” said Supervisor of Elections Cynthia Willingham at about 9:30 a.m. “All is going well with minimal problems.”

Vote totals for Tuesday’s elections were not available by the deadline for the print edition of the Citizen. Please visit www.rockdalenewtoncitizen.com for updates to ballot totals as they become available.

Interest was high among Georgians this election cycle with the presidency, both U.S. Senate seats, congressional seats and control of the state House of Representatives in play.

In Newton County, early in-person and absentee voters cast more than 35,000 ballots, accounting for nearly 45% of all registered voters in the county. Newton has 78,388 active registered voters. Of those early ballots, 20,867 were advance in-person and 14,125 were mailed absentee ballots.

Newton voters initially encountered long lines and long wait times when early in-person voting began on Monday, Oct. 12. As the days went on, improvements were made in the early voting process to make it more efficient and less time-consuming. On the last day of advance in-person voting — Friday, Oct. 30 — which was also the heaviest day, 2,052 ballots were cast.

In Rockdale County, more than 58% of active registered voters cast their votes in advance of Tuesday’s election. Of those early votes, 26,006 were cast in person while 14,141 mail ballots were issued. The heaviest early voter turnout was in the Stanton precinct where 67.89% of voters voted early, either in person or by mail. In the Fieldstone Precinct, which is the largest with 6,867 registered voters, 58.4% cast an early ballot.

Early voting was heavy statewide. By the close of the three-week early voting period, more than 3.8 million people cast ballots in Georgia, marking roughly half of the state’s total registered voters.

Around 2.6 Georgians turned out to vote in-person for early voting from Oct. 12 through Oct. 30, according to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office. Another roughly 1.2 million had cast absentee ballots through Friday, with more mail-in votes expected to arrive before Election Day.

Raffensperger estimated another 2 million Georgians could head to the polls on Election Day, potentially upping the final vote tally to 6 million of the state’s 7.6 million registered voters.

Local races on the Newton ballot included:

DISTRICT ATTORNEY:

♦ Randy McGinley — R

♦ Destiny Bryant — D

SHERIFF:

♦ Ken Malcom — R

♦ Ezell Brown — D (I)

TAX COMMISSIONER:

♦ Dana Darby — R (I)

♦ Marcus Jordan — D

CORONER

♦ Tommy Davis — R (I)

♦ Dorothea Bailey-Butts — D

COUNTY COMMISSIONER

DISTRICT 1

♦ Stan Edwards — R (I)

♦ Catalata Hardeman — D

COUNTY COMMISSIONER

DISTRICT 5

♦ Ronnie Cowan — R (I)

♦ Dorothy Piedrahita — D

In addition, Newton voters were asked whether or not they would support a 1% Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for transportation.


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By votes of 4-3, Covington approves donating $30,000 through Newton County for homeless shelter
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COVINGTON — Concerns over how a $30,000 donation to the storm-damaged Rainbow homeless shelter, funneled through Newton County, will be spent, ended with Covington Mayor Steve Horton breaking a 3-3 tie twice to approve providing the funds. The votes came at the council’s Oct. 19 meeting and a called meeting on Oct. 23.

The shelter, located on Turner Lake Circle, sustained damage after a heavy storm passed through the area on Oct. 10. According to reports, part of the roof was destroyed and the front wall fell away, exposing the lobby.

Shelter director Clara Lett said the shelter holds 84 beds, but 42 people were inside when the storm came through. Two people, including a volunteer serving at the shelter at the time, suffered minor injuries, and those staying there were taken to the old gym at the Cousins Community Center.

At the City Council’s meeting on Oct. 19, Horton brought up the issue of the homeless shelter, stating that Newton County Commission Chairman Marcello Banes had called him and said the county was going to contribute $30,000 to help stabilize homelessness efforts and wanted to know if the city would be able to match the county contribution. Horton noted that the city cannot donate to a private organization and that if they donated, the funding would have to go through the county.

The county Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Oct. 20 to take its $30,000 contribution out of cash reserves. Commissioners also said they would expect detailed accounting of how the money is spent.

Council member Kenneth Morgan said making the donation was the right thing for the city to do.

“I think we would not be good neighbors and good citizens if we did not step up to the plate, since the county is already on board for doing this, during this time of need,” he said. “That’s just who we are and who we should always be.”

Hawnethia Williams agreed, reminding the council that the former mayor Sam Ramsey, who passed away in August, had the initial vision for the homeless shelter.

“In honor of Mayor Ramsey I would love for us to make the donation,” Williams said, “because he pushed so for initiating that the site be purchased by the city, and he stuck by that continually.”

Morgan then made a motion to approve the $30,000 donation, and Williams seconded it.

But other council members expressed concern about keeping track on how the money was spent.

“I understand we can’t contribute directly to the homeless shelter,” said Susie Keck, “but can we write a check for materials for rehabbing the homeless shelter, versus writing a check to the county?”

City Attorney Frank Turner Jr. said it would better to send the money to the county for use by the Covington Housing Authority, which is the landlord for the shelter.

Fleeta Baggett asked if the city will be able to see how the money is spent.

Horton replied that once the city donates it to the county, it becomes the county’s money.

“They (Newton County) have stated they will use it for the purposes of stabilizing the homeless situation because of the storm and the damage it has created,” Horton said. “They haven’t specified how it will be used.”

Anthony Henderson asked if the city can get a list of what is needed, rather than “just throwing money out there and hoping they will do the right thing.”

Keck agreed that how the money will be spent is a real issue, with Baggett and Don Floyd adding that they could not vote for the donation without more information.

The vote was called and was 3-3, with Morgan, Williams and Henderson voting in favor, and Keck, Baggett and Floyd voting against. Horton broke the tie in favor of the donation.

The council held an emergency called meeting by teleconference on Oct. 23 in order to approve a budget resolution for the donation.

Horton asked Banes to call in to let council members know how the county will account for the funds.

Banes said the county will be asking for detailed receipts and accounts for how the money is spent and is willing to report back to the city.

Banes said part of the funding will be for meals and part for housing.

“It is a big need,” he said. “To provide meals for them daily, the FAA Camp is going to charge about $500 a day from my understanding to prepare the meals. So we’re helping in that area.

“We do understand that they have a need for beds and for finding another place to house their food (the part of the building damaged was the kitchen),” he added. “They have a lot of things going on right now, and I just feel like it is something that the community needs to be involved in. The last thing that any of us would want to see is 50 to 70 homeless people sitting on the Square in Covington.”

Floyd asked if the Housing Authority had insurance for the shelter.

Horton said they did, but added that Lett had told him by the time they get the repair work bid out and the shelter rebuilt, it could take four to six months.

Morgan made a motion to approve the budget amendment and Williams seconded the motion. The vote was called and was again 3-3, with Morgan, Williams and Henderson in favor, and Keck, Baggett and Floyd opposed. Horton again broke the tie in favor of the amendment.


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No Christmas parade in Conyers this year; other holiday events in the works
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CONYERS — COVID-19 has claimed another local tradition. The Conyers Christmas Parade scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 5, has been canceled due to concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“As we continue to monitor coronavirus cases at the local level, we made the difficult decision to cancel this year’s parade,” said Director of Public Relations and Tourism Jennifer Edwards. “There’s really no way to safely hold the parade and adhere to CDC guidelines based on the information we have today. Since our school system is participating in virtual learning this semester and a large number of our parade entries and spectators are comprised of school-age children, we decided this was in the best interest of all involved.”

While the parade won’t take place, the city will be hosting the ice skating rink in the Randy S. Mills Pavilion for the 21sth year. The rink, which will be located at 949 S. Main St., will open on Nov. 20.

Due to the pandemic and its effects, days and hours of operation for the ice rink are still being determined. Masks are encouraged, but not required for ice skating. The rink will remain open through Monday, Feb. 15, 2021. Days and hours of operation will be updated on the Ice Days website at icedays.com.

The popular Olde Town Christmas Party is tentatively scheduled for Friday, Dec. 4, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. with free activities for children in the streets of the business district of Olde Town Conyers. Activities include marshmallow roasting, socially-distanced visits and photos with Santa, train rides, live music, refreshments, crafts and more. Hand sanitizing stations and safety protocols will be in place and social distancing will be encouraged. If CDC guidelines change or public health conditions warrant cancelation of the event, notification will be issued via the city’s website and social media channels.

“We had a safe and successful Olde Town Fall Festival and feel we can safely hold the Christmas party as guests are able to move about, it’s for a shorter time period, and guests will not congregate as they would at the parade,” said Edwards. “We’re hopeful for a bigger and better Christmas season, complete with a parade, in 2021.”


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Rockdale school system seeking input on second semester learning options
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CONYERS — Rockdale County Public Schools is seeking input from parents and guardians on how they would like their students to continue their education in the second semester of the school year.

The school system has opened a survey for parents and guardians to choose either a hybrid or virtual learning option for the semester that begins Jan. 19. The school system is tentatively planning to resume in-person instruction on a hybrid schedule, and will also continue to offer virtual-only instruction.

Parents and guardians can access the survey in the Infinite Campus Parent Portal through Nov. 13 at 5 p.m. For information about the Infinite Campus Parent Portal, visit www.rockdaleschools.org/infinitecampus or contact the digital learning specialist at the individual schools.

Under a hybrid schedule, not all students would be attending school on the same day. There would be two days of in-person instruction at school and three days of virtual learning at home. For information on protocols for returning to campus, please see the Return to Campus Guidebook for Families at www.rockdaleschools.org/reopening. RCPS will continue to offer a virtual-only option for second semester for those parents who wish to choose that option.

All students will continue to have access to meals, regardless of which learning option is selected for them.

The results of this required survey will enable the district and schools to better plan for the second semester. RCPS reserves the right to adjust plans based upon local public health conditions, which school officials continue to monitor closely.

To fill out the survey, log in to the Infinite Campus Parent Portal, go to “More” and then click on “RCPS Learner Options Selection.” Parents and guardians must complete one survey for each child by November 13, 2020. For those who do not select an option, a hybrid schedule will be assigned.

Elementary School Students

Parents and guardians of elementary school students will have the choice of a hybrid or virtual learning option. Parents and guardians will be able to choose a different learning option selection for the fourth quarter.

Middle and High School Students

Parents and guardians of middle school and high school students can choose between hybrid, school-based virtual, or Rockdale Virtual Campus. The learning option selected will remain in effect for the entire second semester for middle and high school students.

For more information on RCPS Reopening 2020-21, please visit www.rockdaleschools.org/reopening.