COVINGTON — Ongoing friction between Newton commissioners was front and center Tuesday night when Commissioners J.C. Henderson and Alana Sanders teamed up to give the vice chair position on the board — which is largely ceremonial — more status. The effort ultimately failed.
In what is typically a routine process, the Board of Commissioners appoints a vice chair at the first meeting of each year. The position historically has rotated sequentially among the commission districts.
Sanders, in District 3, was the vice chair in 2021. Henderson, in District 4, was up for the appointment Tuesday night. The position does not carry any additional powers or responsibilities other than to preside at meetings in the absence of the chairman. Chairman Marcello Banes did not miss any BOC meetings in 2021.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, Henderson complained that Sanders should have been given 20% more compensation for her efforts in working with the American Rescue Plan Act funding in 2021 and that she should have been given a nameplate on the commissioners’ dais designating her as the vice chair.
Henderson then made a motion that he be named vice chair for 2022, that he be given a name tag and a nameplate denoting his position, that he be addressed by other commissioners in all public meetings as “vice chair,” and — seemingly unrelated — that the board have public budget work sessions during the budgeting process.
Sanders seconded his motion.
“See, what the problem is that the majority of the board, which is Republican, they don’t want the citizens of Newton County to have any say in the budget,” said Henderson.
The majority of the board is actually Democrat, but Henderson derisively refers to District 2 Commissioner Demond Mason, a Democrat, as a Republican when Mason doesn’t vote along the same lines as Democrats Sanders and Henderson.
In addition, the county already holds a series of budget work sessions each year in which each department’s budget is reviewed. Those meetings are open to the public.
Henderson’s motion failed 3-2, with he and Sanders casting the votes in favor.
Sanders then made a motion to remove the budget work session requirement from the motion, but to keep the nameplate, name tag and “vice chair” address for Henderson.
Henderson seconded her motion.
In the following discussion, District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards asked for clarification of the motion.
“So, I am to refer to Commissioner Henderson as ‘Vice Chair Henderson,’ no matter the setting? Is that correct?” he asked.
“The motion included ‘only in public meetings,’” said County Attorney Patrick Jaugstetter. “Look, that’s not really enforceable. There’s no manner in which you can enforce that.”
“Yeah, that ain’t happening,” responded Edwards.
Henderson said it was a matter of disrespect.
“It’s just kind of clear that when it comes down to myself … it is going to always be Republicans. Republicans aren’t always just my Caucasian bothers and sisters on the board,” said Henderson, who is Black. “It can be us, too, as well. The same respect that you give to the chairman and the same respect that you give to anybody, you deny wanting to give me that respect.”
Mason, who is also Black, pointed out that when he served as vice chair in 2020, there was no mention of additional income or a nameplate or name tag.
“So what I want to know is, why now all of a sudden in 2021 and 2022 we are changing things … Nobody was fighting for the other commissioners prior to these two past years for these things,” he said. “This has nothing to do with Republican and it has nothing to do with Democrat. It has to do with a level of respect for the entire board, and it should not be where we are showing favoritism to certain commissioners when it’s their time to be vice chair…”
Sanders responded that she had been “disrespected” the entire year she served as vice chair, reminding the board that three members had wanted to pass her over since she had just been elected. She said Henderson’s motion was “to make sure that from now on every commissioner who comes behind us is respected, and you don’t do favoritism based on the person who is sitting in the seat, which you did in January 2021.”
Sanders’ motion failed 3-2. Chairman Banes then asked for a straightforward motion appointing Henderson as vice chair.
Sanders made the motion, which was seconded by Edwards. It passed unanimously.