City approves charter change

COVINGTON -- The City Council amended the city's charter Monday night to allow city employees and officials to do business with the city.

The city's charter, which was created in 1962, does not allow the mayor, any member of the City Council or city employees to sell any property or products to the city. City Manager Steve Horton said the change to the charter would bring it in line with state law that permits public employees to participate in these activities.

Now employees and elected officials can engage in sales of personal property of less than $200 per calendar quarter; participate in the sealed competitive bid process; and sell real property to the city so long as public and timely disclosure of the official's or employee's stake is made.

Newton County resident Chris Jueschke spoke in opposition to the change at Monday's meeting, saying it was akin to weakening anti-corruption and conflict of interest policies.

"If an office holder is allowed to benefit financially from city contracts, no one knows if their allegiance is to themselves or the city," he said.

Regardless of the intentions going in, Jueschke said business deals sometimes go sour, and if that happens, he worries an employee's job may be at stake, or a council member's judgment regarding other matters may be undermined.

Horton said he initiated the investigation into whether the city's charter was consistent with state law.

"Some of our folks that work here have advised me there have been times when they've had to buy things at stores and they couldn't shop at stores run by city employees or elected officials. Their perception was they could have bought them cheaper if they bought in those stores," he said.

"We try to press the Buy Local campaign as much as we can. Obviously, sometimes we do have to buy outside, but if we're going to buy local, we feel like we should have all options available at our disposal," he added.

Horton said he understands Jueschke's concerns, but noted that the annualized sealed bid process set up by the state guards against anyone having an unfair advantage.

"Everybody bids at the same time and the bids are opened at the same time. It's hard to rig things where somebody knows the pricing to that end. I think it gives everybody a fair chance," he said, noting that sealed bid openings are always conducted at public meetings. "If I find out that somebody is doing something to ensure somebody gets a bid over another person, they won't be here the next day. The integrity of the organization is vital."

The change to the charter was approved 5 to 1 with Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams opposed.

In other news, the City Council approved the final reading of an ordinance amendment that allows the use of bows and arrows in the city.

The council first discussed the issue in July when Covington resident and former director of the Wildlife Resources Division of the state Department of Natural Resources David Waller asked council members to consider allowing residents to use bows and arrows to help thin a growing deer population.

Waller said the increase in the number of deer in the city is beginning to cause problems for homeowners who are seeing their gardens and landscaping decimated by the animals. However, more serious issues could be on the horizon, including higher instances of deer-related vehicle collisions and deer ticks infecting people and pets.

Bow hunting is not allowed within 100 yards of a dwelling, even if the hunter has permission from the owner to hunt on the property, which is also required. Only licensed hunters are permitted to hunt deer during bow hunting season, typically between September and January.

Williams was the only dissenting vote. She has opposed the proposal all along, saying she is concerned that the safety of residents will be compromised.

Staff Correspondent Aimee Jones contributed to this story.