COVINGTON -- The county attorney says there is no conflict with Commissioner J.C. Henderson serving as chair of the Nelson Heights board of directors and also voting in his capacity as commissioner on budget appropriations to that entity.
"There is absolutely, positively no conflict of interest, no ethical violation, with respect to that activity," County Attorney Tommy Craig told commissioners Tuesday night.
Craig was asked for his opinion after Commissioner Nancy Schulz questioned whether it was a conflict for Henderson to request an appropriation to Nelson Heights Community Center, since he is chair of the newly formed board of directors. Henderson requested a $40,000 appropriation to Nelson Heights, an increase in funding from years past. The budget a majority of commissioners has consented to, but that has not been approved, appropriates $32,000.
In addition, Craig said it is not a violation for the county to appropriate money to Nelson Heights.
On Monday, the new Nelson Heights director, Christine Young-Brown, requested the Covington City Council allocate $80,000 over two years for operations. City Attorney Ed Crudup said the city is prohibited from giving taxpayer dollars to a private entity, unless it receives a service in return.
For example, the city appropriates money to the Chamber of Commerce, but has a contract for service for the Chamber to handle tourism and economic development.
But Craig said the county is responsible for Nelson Heights operations. Though a non-profit was formed several years ago, that is separate from Nelson Heights Community Center. "That is, the county is dealing with itself in relation to that project," he said. Finances related to the center are administered by the county finance department, he said.
Cities and counties are prohibited from giving away taxpayer money in violation of the gratuities clause, unless they pass a constitutional amendment to permit gratuities, which the city of Atlanta has done, he said. The county is permitted to support recreational programs, parks and facilities, arts and sciences and related programs and facilities.
Since Nelson Heights' primary purpose is to educate young people, it is a legal expenditure for the county, he said.
In April, the Board of Commissioners formed the Nelson Heights Community Center board of directors to manage the community center. It was previously operated by the Recreation Commission and managed by Washington Street Community Center.
Henderson, who championed the center's creation and the transition from the Recreation Commission to the board of directors, said the facility is under used.
Under the agreement approved by the BOC, the county manages funds for maintenance and operations of the center. Receipts are turned in to the county office and money dispersed by the county manager.
The board of directors includes four ex officio members: the district commissioner and city councilperson where the center is located; mayor of Covington; BOC chair or their designees; and five members appointed by the District 4 commissioner -- Henderson -- for four year terms.
The board sets policies and procedures for operating and managing the facility, including selecting a director and establishing an operating budget.