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Looking back: Councilman ends career after 16 years

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

COVINGTON -- John Howard doesn't do well with words like "accomplishment," "success" or even "thank you."

In the 16 years he's served on the Covington City Council, Howard said he's not sure if he's made that much of an impact. Maybe on the budget process, he concedes. Howard is known for his prudence when it comes to city finances.

"I try to work behind the scenes in everything I do," he said.

But you can't work behind the scenes when you're an elected official. People are bound to notice what you do and how you conduct yourself while doing it, especially those who've worked right alongside you.

So it says a lot that former Covington Mayor Sam Ramsey, under whose leadership Howard served the majority of his time as a council member, made a special trip to the Dec. 21 council meeting specifically to thank Howard for his service.

"I could always count on John looking into things in a very thorough way. I knew once John said, 'This is OK,' it was probably OK," Ramsey said.

He said the city is presently in good financial shape in large part due to Howard's wise judgment.

"I hope we can always keep people of the caliber you are in these positions," Ramsey said.

Current Mayor Kim Carter echoed those sentiments.

"We will miss your financial guidance and your budgetary expertise. I have been thankful to have you by my side," she said, before presenting Howard with a key to the city.

"What door does this fit in?" he asked.

Later, Howard left his seat to address the council from a podium normally used by staff and audience members.

"Time has flown by. Sixteen years -- it feels like yesterday," he said. "I've had some good times, mostly. I've had some bad times. If a motion was defeated that I wanted to pass, that was water under the bridge. You never go back -- that will eat you alive.

"A man I respect told me early on, 'There is no right way to do a wrong thing.' He was sitting back there and I wish he was still here," Howard continued, pointing to where Ramsey had been sitting earlier. "If each one of you would think about that before you make a decision, that's the right way to make a decision."

Reflecting on his political career several days later, Howard said it's the people who work for the city that he'll miss most.

"We have a great group of people over there, starting from the top, from (City Manager) Steve (Horton) down to the department heads and the employees," he said.

Howard has been elected to four terms and has served on the Recreation Commission, Tree Board and Airport Advisory Committee.

It's hard to pick the most important issues the council has tackled during that time, Howard said, but two recent actions stand out: The ordinances resulting from the Livable Centers Initiative Study, including the Bypass Corridor Overlay, and steps taken to develop out Covington Municipal Airport.

All that has been accomplished during Howard's four terms has been a team effort, he said.

"It's not me, me, me. It's we, we, we. You don't do anything on your own," he said.

The most challenging part of the job is all the research involved, he said.

"If you really do your job, you don't just open your packet when you get there (at the council meeting). The most challenging part is doing your homework," he said.

Howard, who will turn 76 in January, said he decided not to run for re-election because, "We need some younger blood."

He intends to keep his spare time filled with family -- he and wife Jean have three children and five grandchildren -- and work. Howard works three days a week as a manager at Capes Warehouses. He also wants to do volunteer work, saying he's passionate about the effort to get a Miracle League field in Newton County.

In his remarks to the City Council, Howard quoted one of his heroes, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who, upon his retirement from the military, stated, "Old soldiers never die; they just fade away."

"I'm not going to fade away," Howard said.