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Party draws tenants' gripes

COVINGTON — A block party at Spillers Park in the Nelson Heights community on Saturday had residents complaining and was a topic of concern at Monday's City Council meeting.

Several hundred people attended the gathering and some residents complained they were spilling into the street and blocking driveways. The gathering was conducted without permission from the Newton County Recreation Commission, which contracts with the city to maintain and manage the property.

Commissioner J.C. Henderson, who won re-election to his District 4 seat Tuesday night, was reportedly the organizer of the event, as fliers bearing his name and information were handed out. But Henderson has denied any involvement. He said he initially planned to host a community day but could never get it organized.

"We couldn't organize it, and if we couldn't do it right, we didn't want to do it at all," Henderson said, adding he doesn't know who held the party but assumed it was people within the Nelson Heights community.

Henderson said he notified the Covington Police Department of the event and notified them that it was canceled a week or two beforehand. He said he was surprised his name was attached to the discussion at the City Council meeting.

"If they wanted to ask me or call me or something, I could have told them it had been canceled. It was done in a timely manner," he said.

Police Chief Stacey Cotton said there were two 911 calls from residents reporting they did not have access to their driveways, but no major problems during the gathering. He said the police department heard about the event a day or two prior, but there was no time to track down organizers. The party broke up before nightfall due to a late afternoon thunderstorm, he said.

"If you're going to have a party and 200 people show up, that's your business. There's nothing illegal about that. The issue is what may happen as a result of that party," Cotton said, but stressed the CPD was not aware of any illegal activity. He said he could not require a permit because the Recreation Commission, not the city, manages the park.

Often, organizers of such events won't call the CPD because they know they'll put stipulations on what they do, he said. Cotton said he recently found out that Henderson had the county clerk call a captain in the police department to say an event he had planned was canceled.

A flier Henderson had created to advertise his event said it was a community day and a "day of fun" scheduled to take place Sunday at Spillers Park from 12:30 p.m. until dusk. A flier was later sent to the CPD captain by the county clerk stating the event had been canceled.

Tommy Hailey, director of the Recreation Commission, said Henderson talked with Assistant Director Anthony Avery about three months prior to his planned event and asked for permission to block off the street. Avery directed Henderson to the CPD to first get permission to block off the street.

"We never heard anything back. We had no information about it. It's not an ideal place to have a block party due to lack of access. We treated it just like we treat everybody else. They did not get permission from here," Hailey said of whoever hosted the party.

Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams said she initially thought the party was hosted by Henderson but has since heard that there may have been others responsible.

"I do not have any real evidence he did do it," Williams said. "I just know that whomever it is, Commissioner Henderson or neighborhood people, since it's in the city of Covington, that's our district. That's the city's area of authority and control, and we want to make sure everybody's coordinating and working together in cooperation so we can ensure safety."

Williams said she has no problem with a community day being held as long as residents are notified ahead of time and it goes through the proper channels.

"My concern is with the residents that live in that neighborhood. They need to be notified of a block party if there's to be one. I'm concerned about crowd control and whether the police are informed prior so that some kind of strategy or procedure can be set up," Williams said. "It's supposedly a Nelson Heights day but part of the people are coming in from other areas and sometimes there's a lack of respect for the neighborhood because they don't live in the neighborhood."

Similar events have taken place in the past with no notification to residents or the city, she added.