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$345,000 EEOC settlement agreement with former Rockdale finance director Roselyn Miller to be voted on at July 27 meeting
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CONYERS — The Rockdale County Board of Commissioners is expected to approve — by a split vote — a settlement agreement and general release and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) mediation settlement agreement with former Rockdale County finance director Roselyn Miller for $345,000 at the July 27 meeting. Post 1 Commissioner Sherri Washington indicated at the BOC’s work session on July 20 that she will be voting against the agreement.

Miller, who had been the finance director since 2014, was released from her position in September 2020. Miller had been placed on probation in August 2020 after the BOC learned that the county was behind on paperwork detailing how the $3.9 million the county received from the CARES Act was to have been spent.

A news release sent out Sept. 17, 2020, by then-Chief of Staff Corey Hambrick stated that Post 1 Commissioner Sherri L. Washington and Post 2 Commissioner Dr. Doreen Williams had called for a review of policies and procedures, citing “a lack of confidence in the handling of the county’s Finance Department.”

Miller apparently filed a complaint with the EEOC following her dismissal. According to the EEOC website, complaints are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and cannot be released.

Miller had been with Rockdale County for 21 years, starting in the Finance Department in 1999. In 2004 she was named deputy director, and in what some citizens felt was a questionable move, was appointed director in July 2014 after the previous director, Mia Wilson, left in December 2013.

Miller was one of the final two candidates for the position, along with then-county finance reporting officer Linda Nabors. The controversy arose after the Board of Commissioners (At that time, the BOC was Chair Richard A. Oden, Post 1 Commissioner Oz Nesbitt Sr., and Post 2 Commissioner JaNice Van Ness) changed the job description educational requirements for the position from a four-year degree to an “equable combination” of college degrees and 10 years of financial management experience with five years in a supervisor capacity. Miller had a two-year associate’s degree, while Nabors had a four-year bachelor’s degree and twice as much work experience.

The vote was 2-1 in favor of both the job description revision and Miller’s appointment, with Van Ness voting “no” each time.

Under Miller’s leadership, the Finance Department continued to receive the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) award, and the county had grown both its budget and holdings, including purchasing Costley Mill Park in 2017.

In 2019, for the first time since 2010, the county budget did not require the use of reserve funds to be balanced, and that feat was repeated with the 2020 budget at the time of its approval.

After a 10-month search for a new chief financial officer, the Rockdale Board of Commissioners welcomed Mark Lewis to the Finance Department directorship at its June 22 meeting.

Rockdale Public Schools opens new Central Office campus
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CONYERS — Rockdale County Public Schools officials cut the ribbon on a new Central Office campus Tuesday, bringing to fruition a project that weathered a number of challenges, not the least of which was a worldwide pandemic.

During the ribbon-cutting ceremony held inside the Board of Education’s new meeting room, BOE Chair Mandy North thanked the voters of Rockdale County for their enduring support of the 1% Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for education that funded the $15.4 million project.

“The citizens of Rockdale County have supported ESPLOST for over 20 years, which has enabled us to be a debt free school system … ,” North said.

Superintendent Dr. Terry Oatts thanked school system officials who had a hand in the project, as well as architects Lindsay Pope Brayfield & Associates and Carroll Daniel Construction. Oatts said the new facility, built on the site of the former Pine Street Elementary School campus, encompasses 82,044 square feet and brings all Central Office operations under one roof. Previously, Central Office functions were spread across several locations in school system-owned and leased office space.

The former Central Office on Main Street will now become a campus for Georgia Military College, providing “another option for higher education close to home,” said Oatts.

Margaret Beaty, principal in charge with Lindsay Pope Brayfield & Associates, thanked the school system for giving them the opportunity to design the building, which includes two wings from the old Pine Street Elementary building.

“This was a very complicated project because the soil in Rockdale County is very, very hard,” she said. “We encountered everything — rock, unsuitable soils, underground water, you name it we had it. … I guess we were prepared because it is Rockdale County, but every day was a surprise.”

Beaty said contractors faced the additional unforeseen challenge of the coronavirus pandemic. She noted that in the construction business, there is no way to maintain a 6-foot social distance on the job. She commended the contractors for their perseverance.

“While everybody was at home, they had to come here rain or shine,” she said. … “Everybody was wearing masks as much as they could. Some people got sick, got well, but the building was completed on time.”

New parents thankful for love, support shown by NICU at Piedmont Rockdale
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COVINGTON — A Newton County couple whose twin daughters were born prematurely is spreading the word about the love and care shown to them and their babies at Piedmont Rockdale Hospital.

Jenna and Nick Smith of Mansfield became parents with the birth of Caroline Jane and Harper Grace on March 26 at Piedmont Rockdale. Each baby girl weighed less than 2 pounds and spent weeks in the NICU. Harper was able to come home after 11 weeks in the NICU; Caroline is making progress and is expected to be able to join her mom, dad and sister at their home in Mansfield soon.

After so much time with the staff at the NICU, Jenna Smith said she wanted to do something to recognize the extraordinary care they received and that Caroline continues to receive. She nominated the NICU team for the 104.7 The Fish radio Acts of Love campaign. The radio station responded with a pizza dinner for both shifts at the NICU along with a swing, sound machines, swaddles and other supplies.

“They’ve been like our family, honestly,” said Jenna of the NICU team. “They’ve made sure we are taken care of and that we understand everything. They have just been wonderful all the way around. I wouldn’t change a single thing about it.”

Jenna and Nick’s journey to becoming parents has not been without challenges. Upon learning that they were unlikely to conceive a child naturally, they elected to pursue in vitro fertilization, which is described by the Mayo Clinic as “a complex series of procedures used to help with fertility … “

Jenna and Nick began that series of procedures in February 2020. Although the emergence of a worldwide pandemic complicated the process, the couple forged ahead and learned in October that Jenna was pregnant and in November that they were expecting twins.

Doctors told the couple that the babies would likely be born between 32 and 34 weeks of gestation, but the girls had other plans.

Jenna experienced pre-term labor at 23 weeks and was admitted to Piedmont Rockdale. Three weeks later, the girls were born on March 26. Caroline weighed 1 pound, 11 ounces and Harper weighed 1 pound, 15 ounces.

Both girls are now in the 8-pound range and, other than some reflux issues that Caroline is experiencing, they are doing well.

Jenna said the Acts of Love nomination was a small way for her to recognize the NICU team for all their care and support.

“Obviously, they’ve taken super great care of the girls,” she said. “Harper came home prior to her due date, which is considered rare. (The babies) were considered micro preemies. The staff has been wonderful from the day I was admitted three weeks before they were born.”

Both Jenna and Nick are Newton County natives who met through Eastridge Church. Harper and Caroline are the first grandchildren for both sets of grandparents, Karen and Steve Wagner and Todd and Yoli Smith.

Newton trims proposed FY 2022 budget by $500,000
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COVINGTON — Newton County officials made a number of revisions to the proposed fiscal year 2022 budget in order to preserve a planned average 4.5% pay increase for all county employees.

Finance Director Brittany White and County Manager Lloyd Kerr presented the revisions to the Board of Commissioners at a called meeting Tuesday night. Commissioners asked for the revisions in June after expressing concern about the amount of the pay increase, which totals $384,000 for the year.

Kerr outlined a number of reductions in the budget, along with some previously unbudgeted expenses. The end result was an overall $500,000 reduction in the general fund budget, bringing the total to $77,628,142, a 1.4% increase over fiscal year 2021.

The biggest change to the proposed budget was transferring the debt service on the ABM Building Solutions contract to the 2017 SPLOST debt retirement fund. The ABM debt service totals slightly more than $1 million per year. The county contracted with ABM in 2016 to implement energy and facility improvement projects in several county facilities designed to provide $13.7 million in energy savings over 15 years.

Kerr also said the county could achieve $379,000 in savings by delaying new hires that were budgeted for July 1 to Jan. 1.

At the same time that Kerr found ways to trim the fiscal year 2022 budget, additional expenses were also encountered. Among the largest was overtime for the Fire Department, which had been overlooked in the Fire Department’s initial budget, and $106,000 in the contract cost for medical services at the Newton County Detention Center.

The net result of the revisions was a $500,000 reduction in the general fund budget.

Following the budget presentation, the BOC held a public hearing on the budget. Resident Larry McSwain was the only citizen who spoke. He noted growth in the county’s budget exceeds growth in both the tax digest and the county’s population. He also noted that the county’s tax base is 66% residential, which does not typically generate enough property taxes to pay for services provided by the county. He cautioned against providing tax incentives to businesses and industries looking to locate in the county.

The next budget public hearing is set for Tuesday, Aug. 3, at 6 p.m., at the Newton County Historic Courthouse. The BOC is expected to vote on the budget at its regular meeting, which will follow the public hearing at 7 p.m.