COVINGTON - Incumbent Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan and challenger Marcus Jordan, both Democrats, faced off in a forum last Thursday.
Asked by Chamber of Commerce President Hunter Hall how they would vote, if the chairman had a vote, regarding a request by the Chamber to increase the economic development budget, Morgan said she would support an increase, but Jordan said he's not so sure.
Morgan said she supports an increase of at least $30,000.
"This Chamber has done a wonderful job of going out and putting the structure together to bring more jobs to our community," she said.
But Jordan, assistant chief appraiser in the Newton County Tax Assessors Office, said all departments could use an increase in funds and all employees could use a raise.
"I would want to research that to find out where those funds are needed," he said.
Morgan and Jordan were in agreement that, despite the creation of the county manager position, chairman is still a full-time position. Jordan said the chairman still has to make sure policies are put into place. Morgan noted that the chairman is the appointed member to numerous boards, including the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Industrial Development Authority, the Leadership Collaborative, the Health Department board, the Chamber economic development board and others. The chair is also in charge of the roads and bridges department and signs checks and purchase orders, she said.
Asked how to handle internal strife and personality conflicts on the board, Morgan said she has an open door, but "There's an old saying: You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. I have a great relationship with some of the commissioners. I've had troubled relationships with some of them in the past, but I'm working to build bridges," to improve those, she said. "I'm learning to appreciate the differences." Morgan added that "Newton County right now has the potential to have the best possible Board of Commissioners its ever had," noting that there are representatives form all walks of life on the board and people who love the county.
But she said, there is a need "to put partisan politics aside and personal agendas aside, including myself. I'm not pointing fingers here. This is a human frailty."
Jordan said he would work to effectively communicate to build relationships and use those relationships so the board could make cohesive decisions.
Candidates were asked by an audience member if they would research legal costs from the county attorney to determine if they are exorbitant.
"Not only the legal office, but I would research everything that's being paid out to become more transparent," Jordan said, adding that he wants to get away from the year-to-year budgeting and instead create a five-year budget plan.
Morgan said she has already done that research. When she took office, legal fees topped $800,000 annually. Prior to the appointment of a county manager, Morgan said she was able to reduce that to about $450,000 annually. Morgan said she has compared costs to surrounding counties, and for some, that is exorbitant, but for others, it's on target. If re-elected, she said she would continue to keep an eye on legal fees as with all expenses.