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Council mulls over items to improve at city retreat

COVINGTON – City officials spent a full day in informal discussions Tuesday on various items during the annual city retreat at the Newton College and Career Academy.

The early morning discourse involved the working relations between the mayor, council and City Manager Leigh Anne Knight in order to improve communication.

Facilitator Tom Quist of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government encouraged council members to recommit to respond to other council members within 24 hours.

City officials also mulled over the chain of command and how to address citizen issues. It was decided that any concerns should first be addressed to City Manager Leigh Anne Knight first is best. If it’s an immediate emergency and she cannot be contacted, city council members would then go directly to department heads.

Prioritizing the retreat’s agenda items, council focused the majority of the meeting on reviewing city projects; addressing concerns about the Planning and Zoning Department; and discussing the financial review.

• Project updates

Knight gave an update of the current 20 miles of waterline projects currently underway within Covington.

She noted that while the Geiger and Elizabeth streets projects are finished, the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority-funded project for additional water lines throughout the city is currently out for bid.

Other projects waiting to be moved forward include a $300,000 striping plan to be funded by the Georgia Department of Transportation and the re-paving and widening of Wheat Street. Knight also noted the city could be holding a grand opening for the CNG Fueling Facility by March 17 or 18.

• Planning and Zoning Department discussions

Council members said they would like to see a more streamlined process for those who are interested in opening businesses in Covington.

Councilman Chris Smith said he’s heard from members of the public that there are many recurring steps to go through before opening up shop.

“The steps never stop. It’s an ongoing problem, and if a business owner could sit down with planning and zoning and be given the criteria to open, it would be the best option so they can know here’s the property and here’s what you can do with it,” Smith said.

Council members also discussed the recent decision at Monday’s meeting to approve of a use permit request by Twelve Oaks Bed and Breakfast owner Nicole Greer to hold private events in addition to the residential use.

Mayor Ronnie Johnston said he wanted to see a more proactive department instead of it reacting to situations at hand.

“We saw by evidence there were huge parking issues, road closures in a residential area, and the department dealt with pieces as they came up,” Johnston said. “The department is reactive instead of preventing a situation like this comes before the council.”

Knight said she plans to work with the department head in order to streamline the process for business owners and make sure road closures as well as planning commission recommendations are reviewed by the department head.

• Financial review

Knight said gas and electric departments are helping sustain the general revenue.

“The daily cash balance is running about $7.3 million and we have about $14.5 million in the reserve account,” Knight said. “We’ve collected some excess funds from the general account for about $1.5 million and we hopefully to use some of those funds to update the accounting software in order to provide the council with financial statements through an easier process.”

The council also discussed holding a work session to discuss pay plan options and human resource policies; to consider the consecutive year terms for board appointments; to clarify the city’s sign ordinance clarifications; and to update the Newton County 2050 plan.