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Attorney: No conflict with Nelson Heights

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.

Comments

Shart15 10 months, 1 week ago

SCHULZ IS RAISING YOUR TAXES PEOPLE - SHE IS ONE OF THE TAXING THREESOME! She was wrong on this too!

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dennistay53 10 months, 1 week ago

How did we ever get into this Nelson Heights deal? If the purpose is to educate children then it should fall under the school board. We make it ok in the other 4 districts without this type of finacial burden. Worse yet why do we pay two attorneys to attend Commissioner meeting? This past meeting Craig and Carter were there. Better yet why do we pay either to attend? Seems like if something legal comes up you table it and bring it back later. Nelson Heights should be run on donations as with all non-profits. No wonder our property tax is in the top 7 in the state.

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Chris 10 months, 1 week ago

One person appoints a majority of the board of directors? What a sham. If this is the board of the nonprofit, an arrangement of this nature would ordinarily disqualify a non-profit from eligibility for funding from the United Way, private foundations, and ordinary donors who pay the least bit of attention to the organizations they contribute to. If it is a county-managed facility it is corrupt for the board to be so transparently controlled by a single commissioner. Newton County has a web of inappropriate entanglements with non-profits that undermine the independence of the nonprofits and cede proper governmental functions to private organizations that are not accountable to the voters. This is only one of many similar cases that have been covered by the newspaper. This mess should be systematically exposed, untangled and dismantled.

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dennistay53 10 months, 1 week ago

It's a violation to the taxpapers to approiate money to a non profit like Nelson Heights when tax has to be raised to do so.

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deathtotaxes 10 months, 1 week ago

Henderson says the facility is under used....then shut it down!

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Frustrated 10 months, 1 week ago

The center is underused according to Henderson but he wants more money to run it? Now is it just me or does this not make sense to anyone else?

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will 10 months, 1 week ago

There will never be enough money. Nelson heights will always have their hand out. By the way, Nelson Heights is a conflict in and of itself. Let this place run on its own and it will never last. Educate young people, I thought we had a public school system for that. Stp proping up these developments that do zero for the county. Why is there no community center in River Cove or in Lochwald or around Lake Varner? The productive families in these communities could benefit from a center like this.

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termlimits 10 months ago

The Nelson Heights thing is part of a SPLOST trade-off between JC and a previous commissioner. Nelson Heights for Agricultural Center - remember? So if we never get an Ag Center, what happens to the money appropriated for it? Guess who would be appointed director of the Ag Center if it ever were to open? You got it - the former commissioner. Our commissioners are much, much smarter than we give them credit for huh? I don't know about the rest of you but it sickens me.

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Newtownqq 10 months ago

@ Dennistay54 I understand how you feel about taxpayers asked to pay more while giving money to non profits. What do you think the BOC is doing for miracle leauge? This will become part of the rec dept budget in the comming years. Why have we as a county been asked to pay for what a non profit wants? You think the SPLOST should not allow non profits to get taxpayer money?

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dennistay53 10 months ago

@Newtownqq- No non profits receiving tax exempt should be receiving taxpayer dollars or run by the government in any manner. Citizens should be encouraged to support them though. Now if the Miracle League is a totally recreation function fully run by the county its a different story. There is also the question of where do you draw the line on non profits- Who do you support or who not to. That should be left up to each individual. Example- I would rather support the Salvation Army than i had the Red Cross because i believe the salvation army is run better- you may think the Red Cross is better. We should be able to send the money in the direction we want as we can make better choices than a commissioner or commissioners. By the way i have a mentally challenged brother that our family totally supports. I expect him to have the same rights as any other in recreation, parks, schools that are fully run by the county or school system.

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dennistay53 10 months ago

@Newtownqq- By the way i also don't think we should be funding Clean and Beautiful, paying both a county mgr and fulltime chairman, paying two attorneys to attend commissioner meetings. If you are going by the 2050 plan why do you need a zoning board? Just this past meeting a varience was giving in the Almon Overlay. What good is a overlay if you give exceptions.

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livingart 10 months ago

Seems there might be too many chiefs .....

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termlimits 10 months ago

The Almon overlay variance was nothing. Just wait until the Hub overlay battles begin.

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dennistay53 10 months ago

We need an answer from the board on this Question. Why was the $750,000 landfill loan repayment not included in the 2011 SPLOST. This question should be asked to all except Douglas, Ellis, Maddux who were not on the board when the 2011 SPLOST was written. This is the main justification they are trying to give for raising millage rates. They had to know in 2011 that this would be due in 2013. They had to know in 2011 that the local economy wouldn't rebound by 2013. Poor planning by the other 3 commissioners and 2 that left, county attorney, county manager?

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