COVINGTON - When Kim Carter takes the mayor's seat at the City Council's first meeting of the new year, she'll be continuing a long family tradition of community service.
Carter has deep roots to the community and to the local government.
Her father, Jerry Capes, was a Municipal Court judge for many years and also served as county attorney.
Her second cousin, Allene Burton, was the first woman mayor of Covington.
Her grandfather, Oliver Capes, was a two-term county commissioner who helped extend water service in the county following the creation of the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority.
Carter's roots are so entrenched in local government that one of her early memories is crawling around on the floors of the Newton County Historic Courthouse. A bookcase dating back to the 1880s that once occupied space in the courthouse now sits in the corner of her living room at the Floyd Street home she shares with her husband, Maurice.
The house itself is a symbol of the political changes at hand: The couple purchased it from outgoing mayor Sam Ramsey in 2004. Built in 1938, it was Ramsey's childhood home.
After a more than 20-year absence from her hometown, Carter was ready to come back.
"We've always wanted to be here, and the timing was right. There's no place like home," she said.
After graduating from Newton High School, Carter left Covington to attend Georgia State University. She married Maurice Carter shortly after graduation, and they spent the next two decades building their respective careers.
Carter said there were few job opportunities in her chosen field of corporate finance in Covington, so the couple lived throughout the metro Atlanta area and, at one point, in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, before moving to Conyers in the mid-'90s.
At the time, they were both traveling for work - Maurice Carter works for IBM - and Conyers was a shorter drive to the airport, she said.
Once she was back home in Covington, Carter said she knew right away she wanted to get involved in the community.
She has served on the city's Board of Zoning Appeals, the Board of Directors for The Community Foundation for Newton County, the Economic Roundtable and Ambassador's Committee of the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce and the Main Street Covington Design Committee.
"When you don't have that sense of community, you feel like your efforts don't make a difference, but we know we can, especially here in Covington," Carter said.
Though Carter said she's been involved with community service and taken on leadership roles since her school days as a class officer and a 4-H member, she can't pinpoint a specific moment that she decided she'd run for mayor.
"Since we moved here, I knew I wanted to be involved in a big way. No disrespect to anybody and great respect for our forefathers - we owe them a debt of gratitude for where we are today - but I saw the growth here, and I think we need to take a more proactive approach to how we run our government," she said.
Though Maurice Carter said he was surprised when his wife told him the news, he knew she would be an ideal candidate.
"It made sense to me because I know Kim. We're not ones to sit back and complain and wait for someone else to do it," he said.
Maurice Carter said his wife's people skills shined through while on the campaign trail. She'd often disappear for an hour, and he'd later find out that she'd been sitting on someone's front porch, chatting.
"A lot of people can, with effort, be outgoing and make people feel comfortable. She's the kind of person who bonds with someone in the moment," he said.
"I love people," Carter added.
The Carter's favorite hobby is entertaining friends and neighbors in their spacious kitchen or on their patio out back, where they have a grill and brick fireplace. The Carters spent a year renovating their house before moving in.
"Our house is the kind of house where you are always welcome to drop by and tell us what happened in your day. I love to sit by the fire and be in the kitchen. That's the kind of thing we like to do because that's what life is all about - sharing," she said.
Carter will be sharing a lot more of her time soon. She assumes mayoral responsibilities in January.
Having lost her job due to downsizing shortly before moving to Covington, Carter started her own business called Business Works Solutions Inc., a consulting, bookkeeping and payroll solutions company catering to small businesses.
Though the business has grown from one to almost 50 clients, Carter said once she takes over as mayor, she will be delegating her responsibilities more often.
"Being the mayor is a full-time job," she said. "It's not like the Covington I grew up in. The city has a $121 million budget. It's a $121 million-a-year business with 350 employees. We have an excellent city manager in Steve Horton, but I see us at a critical point in Covington, and it's going to take a full-time effort to set the course to deal with all the things we've talked about."
One of the first items on her to-do list is a professional economic development study that will examine why the community is so far behind in commercial growth and will establish commercial recruitment strategies.
Carter hopes it will be a joint project with Newton County.
Making local government more accessible to residents is another short-term goal, Carter said, adding that she's looking for "any way to reach out to and include as many citizens as possible."
While Carter said she's happy with the council's recent decision to post meeting minutes on the city's Web site, she'd also like to see the agenda posted there.
She'll also recommend projecting charts and other documents onto a screen at City Council meetings so audience members can follow along with the council's discussions, she said.
In addition, Carter wants to reach out to residents with regular town hall meetings, radio guest spots and guest editorials in local newspapers.
"I am just totally open to what is of concern to them and how we can work together as a team to make this the best community ever," she said.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.