Membership for 2050 Plan citizen panel draws controversy

COVINGTON—Newton County’s proposed 2050 Plan has created vigorous debate, and the planners’ proposed citizens panel stirred up plenty of discussion last week.

It even led to a withdrawn appointment. Friday morning County Commissioner John Douglas said he was withdrawing the person he had named to the citizen panel, which will study the 2050 Plan’s baseline ordinances and make recommendations to county leaders.

On Tuesday Douglas named Sandy Morehouse to represent District 1 on the 13-member panel.

“Sandy Morehouse and I talked and we decided that this committee assignment was not really working out for either Sandy or me, and Sandy agreed to step aside and let me appoint someone else,” Douglas said.

Morehouse’s appointment was challenged during discussion of the baseline ordinances at a public hearing Thursday night at Oak Hill Elementary.

Morehouse, who owns Burge Plantation on the eastern side of the county, is also a member of Smart Growth Newton County, a coalition of citizens committed to smart growth principles for the county and its municipalities.

Ricky Mock, an outspoken opponent of the 2050 Plan baseline ordinances, said the proposed Transferable Development Rights program would benefit someone like Morehouse, who has large land holdings and who does not intend to develop his property.

“For you to appoint him … knowing he has the most to gain from this thing – I lost my respect for you, John, when you done that,” Mock said to Douglas.

“I consider (Morehouse) a very valuable member of the community,” Douglas said Friday, adding that Morehouse’s family has a long history in the county and he his wife, Betsy, have made significant contributions to the community.

Douglas said he would take a few days to name his replacement on the panel.

Another controversy arose earlier in the week when the Covington City Council requested to have seven members on the citizens panel instead of its allotted one.

The 13 members of the panel will include one representative from each municipality in the county and representatives and members appointed by each commissioner, the chairman, the Water and Sewage Authority and the Board of Education.

Covington’s request for seven members was denied by the County Commission at Tuesday’s commission meeting.

What’s next?

“We’re in negotiations with the county,” Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston said on Thursday.

“There’s more at stake here than just the 2050 Plan,” noted County Commission Chairman Keith Ellis. “The city and county have always worked together for the best interests of our citizens, and we’ll continue to do so.”

Going into the weekend, it appeared that only two members had been appointed to the citizens panel.

Ellis named Wayne Haynie, an engineer specializing in water and wastewater issues.

District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz appointed Michelle Porteous, chief executive officer of the Windcrest Homeowners Association.

The Board of Education selected its appointee, but the school system’s director of public relations, Sherri Davis-Viniard, declined to release the name to the Citizen.