Henderson wants to undo vote
Commission denies request made over Nelson Heights

COVINGTON - The drama surrounding the new Nelson Heights Community Center continued to play out at Tuesday's Board of Commissioners meeting.

District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson - who, along with the rest of the board, voted last month to allow the Recreation Commission to determine if it could take over the center - asked Tuesday night for the agenda to be amended so that he could rescind that vote.

Henderson said he was offended by a letter sent by the Recreation Commission to the Board of Commissioners listing concerns and questions about the project.

The letter states that before taking over the facility, the Recreation Commission "has to have the assurance that there will be no outside interference from the Nelson Heights 501(c)3 Board."

A list of questions submitted by the Recreation Commission also states "If the Recreation Commission decides to take this facility, will there be any outside pressure from established 501(c)3 or district four commissioner once we take over?"

"I felt like that was something personal against me," said Henderson, who has served on the Recreation Commission for 13 years.

Henderson said a county commissioner has the right to be in any county facility at any time, and he believes this is an attempt to keep him out of the community center and to keep the community it is intended to serve from being involved.

"I sold (the community) on a dream that we were going to take care of their children and give them a place to relax and have fun ... and now they're trying to take that dream away from them," Henderson said Wednesday."They're saying 'We don't want anyone to come in and tell us how to run this facility. This is a community center - it's not a recreation facility.'"

Commissioners denied his request to amend the agenda by a vote of 3-2, with Earnest Simmons in favor and Mort Ewing, Nancy Schulz and Tim Fleming opposed.

Recreation Commission Chairman Johnny Presley said the commission was simply trying to make sure there wouldn't be two boards trying to run the center.

"We don't know how that would have worked and who would be put in to manage it. We didn't quite understand the other level of having another board and having the recreation department co-manage the program," he said.

Presley said Henderson and Simmons attended the Recreation Commission meeting in which the concerns were discussed and did not at that time indicate any problem.

"It was nothing personal. It was not a slap in any direction. There were things we wanted to address before we took the facility over," he said.

Those concerns are expected to be addressed at a work session prior to the board's Oct. 20 meeting, according to Recreation Commission Director Tommy Hailey.

"I don't think the board's intention was to make anybody look bad. I've got all the respect in the world for J.C. He's done a lot of good things for this community. If I hurt his feelings, I apologize for that," he said. "I only do what my board tells me to do. I don't make the decisions. The decision was made to send the letter back with that concern."

Chairman Kathy Morgan has said there is no record of the Board of Commissioners ever approving the formation of a 501(c)3 to operate the facility. The nonprofit was created with assistance from the county attorney's office at Henderson's request. The county attorney has since withdrawn an invoice for that work.

Ewing, who, along with Henderson, served on the board when the center was approved and placed on the SPLOST ballot, said the board agreed only to buy the land for the center and construct the building, with the intent that it be rented out to the community and rental fees be used to pay for maintenance and operations.

Under the Recreation Commission's proposal, the use of the facility would be limited to programs determined by the commission; county/city functions and meetings; Recreation Commission-sponsored programs, meetings and events and a voting precinct. The building would be rented for community meetings and events such as family reunions and baby or wedding showers.

The Recreation Commission also wants confirmation that there is $64,000 allocated for the center in the county budget as previously stated by Henderson. If so, half would be used immediately and the other half during the 2010-11 budget cycle for maintenance and operations and capital improvements.

The Recreation Commission has also raised the concern of why it is being asked to take on additional facilities, including Cousins Gym and a park planned for Fairview Estates, without additional funding.

Presley said that if the $64,000 has been allocated, the center can likely be funded for two years, possibly with additional grants or charitable gifts.

As for how the Recreation Commission can take on additional projects after having its funding cut by 20 percent, Presley said concerns still remain.

"The program cannot run unless funds are available to run it," he said.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.