COVINGTON — A decision by the Newton County Recreation Commission in December to pay hefty bonuses to its senior staff members appears to have been the catalyst for the county to consider bringing the Recreation Department under county management.
The Newton County Board of Commissioners was set to consider a resolution Tuesday night calling for the dissolution of the Recreation Commission, which oversees operations of the Recreation Department. Local legislation calling for the dissolution would have to be introduced by the county’s legislative delegation and approved by the General Assembly.
If the legislation were to be approved, the Recreation Department would report to the county manager like all other county departments. Recreation Department employees are already on the county payroll, with the exception of two who are paid by the city of Covington.
The one-time bonuses paid to six Recreation Department employees in December were another indicator for commissioners that Recreation Department management — particularly personnel management — might be better handled by the county’s Human Resources Department.
The bonuses, which were unanimously approved by the Recreation Commission, totaled more than $28,000 and were deemed by the county to be illegal under Georgia’s gratuities clause. The employees were told last month that they would have to repay the money to the county.
Last May the county settled a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by former Rec Department director Anthony Avery, who claimed that he was wrongfully terminated by the Recreation Commission in November 2017. Under the terms of the settlement, the county’s insurance provider paid $150,000 of the settlement, with the county and the Recreation Commission each paying $175,000.
In early 2018, following Avery’s termination, the county sought to establish more control over the Recreation Commission by redrafting the Recreation Commission resolution. Over the course of several months, BOC Chairman Marcello Banes appointed eight new members to the board and made one re-appointment. The members are all volunteers.
The redrafting also made it clear that the BOC chairman could remove board members for good cause; that rec board members would be limited to two consecutive terms; that the BOC chairman would appoint the chairman of the rec board; and that the rec board would have the authority to hire and terminate its director, subject to the county’s human resources policies. In addition, the Rec Commission would be required to follow the county’s financial policies and procedures and use the county’s auditor.
The Recreation Commission was formed in 1999 as part of an effort by the city of Covington to end its involvement in recreation. Prior to that time, the city and county had jointly operated the Recreation Department. The city’s involvement was phased out from 1996 to 2000.