COVINGTON - Board of Commissioners Chairman Keith Ellis says he's facing a learning curve his first full week on the job, but he already knows some of his top priorities for the year.
"The citizens, if they'll be patient with me awhile during this orientation process, as I get into this curve a little more, I'll be able to speed up. I'm kind of going slow and deliberate. I welcome their comments and criticisms. Newton County has a lot of potential and I'm looking forward to serving the people," he said.
Ellis said he's focused in on earning the respect of the five district commissioners and is planning to drive with each commissioner through his or her district once a month to look at projects taking place.
Ellis said he wants to foster teamwork and build a better public perception of the board. He's also reached out to some of the local mayors and said he plans to touch base with all the mayors to let them know the municipal governments are an integral part of decision making in Newton County and he'll do what he can to help them in their decisions.
Ellis said he's also aware that the relationship with the county's state legislative delegation "needs strengthening," noting that only one member of the delegation, State Rep. Doug Holt, R-Social Circle, lives in Newton.
"We've got to give them a clear direction on what our priorities are," he said.
Ellis said he's also committed to keeping the media and public informed. A short-range goal is to start filming BOC meetings.
Another goal is to provide commissioners their informational packets well in advance of meetings so they have ample time to study the issues that will be discussed, and to provide those and other documents in electronic format.
Ellis said he also wants to accommodate the public's concerns. "If they come by here I'll try to listen to them. I'm not going to make them promises. It really all boils down to people's quality of life improving while I'm in office," he said.
Ellis said his chief goal for his term is to "build a better Newton County," a phrase that will be contained on a new gavel that he will use during meetings.
"I hope that every time that gavel goes down, that a decision is made, that it really did build a better Newton County," he said.
He added that his leadership role involves returning respect to the commissioners and to the local government.
"I realize the awesome responsibility of representing 100,000 people, and I'm, of course. humbled because it is a lot of weight on a person's shoulders," he said.
Ellis said he plans to be hands on in the roads department. The roads department is the sole remaining department under the commission chair's authority, after a transition to a county manager run government last year.
"Money has been available but projects have not been done," Ellis said. He added that he has met with the county engineer and planned projects that will be done over the next year. He said money through SPLOST and capital funds to make intersection improvements and resurface subdivisions, for example, is available and ready to be used. Ellis said he wants to use as many in-house resources as possible, and "make sure we make use of capable employees."
"We're hoping the public will see some of their money at work soon," he said.
Economic development is also a priority. "The road's been paved by Baxter. The incentives that were given to Baxter, I believe were justified, because today if you don't give the incentives, they won't come," he said.
Noting that Newton County has often competed with Research Triangle in North Carolina for projects, he said Stanton Springs, the four-county mixed use park where Baxter is locating, is poised to become a "Research Diamond," given that it's centrally located along the interstate, surrounded by Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and multiple colleges, including the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, Mercer University, the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and other schools.
Ellis will preside over his first Board of Commissioners meeting Thursday, during a special called meeting for board appointments. The first regular meeting takes place at 7 p.m. Jan. 15.