Res­i­dents ex­pected en masse to protest Hen­der­son sanc­tions

The Covington News - - LOCAL - ROB DEWIG rdewig@cov­news.com

More than 200 vot­ers turned out for a town hall meet­ing Thurs­day to vent about the County Com­mis­sion’s re­cent ac­tions to strip Dis­trict 4 Com­mis­sioner J.C. Hen­der­son of his fi­nan­cial pow­ers. They weren’t happy, but they were calm.

“We are very much con­cerned about (the com­mis­sion­ers) strip­ping Mr. Hen­der­son and Dis­trict 4 of all rights,” said Pas­tor W.J. Smith, head of the New­ton County Min­is­ters’ As­so­ci­a­tion, which or­ga­nized Thurs­day’s meet­ing at Beth­le­hem Bap­tist Church with the group New­ton County Con­cerned Cit­i­zens.

Smith said the groups hope the com­mis­sion­ers vote Tues­day to over­turn their decision to strip Hen­der­son’s pow­ers, and re­store power to Com­mis­sion Chair­man Keith El­lis, too. They be­lieve com­mis­sion de­ci­sions don’t be­come law un­til the min­utes of the pre­vi­ous meet­ing are adopted. He said res­i­dents have al- ready queued to speak dur­ing the pub­lic com­ments sec­tion of the meet­ing, which is listed on Tues­day’s agenda be­fore the adop­tion of the min­utes.

If the com­mis­sion does as hoped, ev­ery­thing ends there. If not, “we will do what we have to do,” Smith said. That might in­clude a march, which is some­thing’s the county’s African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity hasn’t done in 40 years.

“We hope we can re­solve this with­out get­ting to that,” Smith said.

Smith said Hen­der­son and El­lis were elected by the peo­ple, and that four of the five com­mis­sion­ers de­cided to ig­nore those peo­ple. Hen­der­son’s pow­ers were re­moved on a 4-1 vote (with Hen­der­son against) after ac­cu­sa­tions that a $4,500 pay­check ad­vance vi­o­lated ethics rules. El­lis’ pow­ers were de­creased in a straight­for­ward po­lit­i­cal power play, with com­mis­sion­ers vot­ing to switch most of his pow­ers to County Man­ager Tom Gar­rett.

The com­mis­sion will meet at 7 p.m. Tues­day in the county court­house.

Smith said the ac­tions against Hen­der­son was “la­beled a pun­ish­ment be­cause he asked to have some­thing that has al­ready been done for the last seven years” - namely, a pay­check ad­vance to help send his son to col­lege. Nu­mer­ous county em­ploy­ees and two com­mis­sion­ers, in­clud­ing Hen­der­son, have re­quested and re­ceived such ad­vances, although the largest check is­sued be­fore Hen­der­son’s most re­cent was for just $1,000.

The com­mis­sion­ers’ vote also called for the re-key­ing of the locks at the Nel­son Heights Com­mu­nity Cen­ter, and the re­moval of Hen­der­son from the cen­ter’s board of direc­tors and the county’s recre­ation board. It also put on hold plans to build sev­eral parks in Dis­trict 4.

The com­mis­sion­ers, Smith said, have “stopped ev­ery­thing we’re all for.”

Archie Shep­herd, speak­ing for New­ton County Con­cerned Cit­i­zens, said Dis­trict 4 does not stand alone in this fight. Res­i­dents from dis­tricts 1, 2 and 5 were at Thurs­day’s town hall meet­ing, and not all of them were black. Two white pas­tors at­tended the meet­ing as mem­bers of the Min­is­ters’ Union, as well as 23 from black churches.

“This is an is­sue that can be re­solved with a whole lot of ef­fort,” Shep­herd said “It’s just a mat­ter of the be­ing aware of how we feel. … We don’t need this (neg­a­tive) pub­lic­ity when we are look­ing at the best in­ter­est of the com­mu­nity. What we want to do is get this be­hind us and go for­ward. I hope we can get sit­u­a­tion re­solved with­out hav­ing to take to the streets.”

Smith said if the com­mis­sion­ers vote to re­store Hen­der­son’s and at least some of El­lis’ pow­ers, ev­ery­thing set­tles down and goes back to nor­mal. If not, com­mu­nity lead­ers will ex­plore their op­tions, in­clud­ing pos­si­ble le­gal ac­tion or, yes, a march.

“Right now (the com­mis­sion­ers) don’t hear us,” Smith said. “I don’t want them to fear us, I want them to hear us.”

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