Hen­der­son’s pow­ers re­stored

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - KAYLA ROBINS krobins@cov­news.com

In light of le­gal re­search and amid pub­lic back­lash, the Board of Com­mis­sion­ers aban­doned a two-week-old decision.

The tur­moil of the past two weeks sur­round­ing the New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers vote to re­move Com­mis­sioner J.C. Hen­der­son from all boards of fidu­ciary re­spon­si­bil­ity, in­clud­ing the Recre­ation Board and Nel­son Heights Com­mu­nity Cen­ter, came to a close Tues­day evening.

Min­utes from the Sept. 2 meet­ing were ap­proved, but with ev­ery­thing re­gard­ing the mo­tion Com­mis­sioner Nancy Shulz made con­cern­ing Hen­der­son and the sanc­tions at­tached to his re­ceiv­ing a $4,500 pay­roll on Aug. 15 ad­vance struck from the record and deemed null and void.

“When this mat­ter came up two weeks ago with re­spect to the sanc­tions to Mr. Hen­der­son, after the board voted, he turned to me and said, ‘Can they do this?’ And I said yes, I be­lieve they have the power,” said County At­tor­ney Tommy Craig.

His­tor­i­cally, he said, mem­bers of the Recre­ation Board have been ap­pointed by com­mis­sion­ers. Dis­trict com­mis­sion­ers would make rec­om­men­da­tions to ap­point some­one in their dis­trict.

“But the re­al­ity is that is not the way state law works,” Craig said.

He said the decision to take somebody off the Recre­ation Board would have to be the chair­man, and the power to ap­point is also the power to re­move, “as the law ex­pressly abides.”

As for the Nel­son Heights Com­mu­nity Cen­ter, Craig said the board mem­bers must be rep­re­sent­ing the dis­trict in which the cen­ter is lo­cated, “so if the board is go­ing to undo that it would re­quire ne­go­ti­a­tions with the board, a re­vi­sion or a rescis­sion of this res­o­lu­tion be­cause he is ac­tu­ally un­der the board’s own or­di­nance as a mem­ber of the board. You can’t take him off with­out re­vis­ing the res­o­lu­tion, and if you do take him off, the board can put him back on.”

“I sup­pose you can change the locks, but if you do, you have to give the board the keys, which puts us right back where we are now,” Craig said.

And con­cern­ing the SPOLST IV im­prove­ments, Craig said, “I’m not say­ing the board can’t stop all those projects, pool the money (Hen­der­son listed) and do some­thing dif­fer­ent.

“Most of what you did was il­le­gal, and the rest of what you did was in­ad­vis­able.”

Com­mis­sioner John Dou­glas mo­tioned for the ap­proval of the min­utes with the strik­ing of Shulz’s pre­vi­ous mo­tion to place sanc­tions on Hen­der­son, with Com­mis­sioner Le­vie Mad­dox notch­ing the sec­ond vote.

“I be­lieve we acted in haste,” Mad­dox said. “This com­mu­nity ap­pre­ci­ates Com­mis­sioner Hen­der­son and ap­proves of his lead­er­ship. Every­body de­serves his fair share, and I’m not sure he got his last meet­ing. Our board needs to fo­cus on do­ing good things for the com­mu­nity.

Shulz voted against the change to the min­utes, say­ing “we can­not rewrite his­tory, as the events of Septem­ber 2 ac­tu­ally oc­curred.

“The un­for­tu­nate events of the loan has brought out­rage to the tax­pay­ers, pub­lic mis­trust and, un­der­stand­ably, many ques- tions. … We are not a lend­ing in­sti­tu­tion.”

Hen­der­son had a sim­ple ques­tion: did he break a law?

Craig said he thought there was a prob­lem with the gra­tu­ities clause of the con­sti­tu­tion, which was a small tech­ni­cal vi­o­la­tion. “But it’s been done over the years, and it’s been done as a part of a pay­roll as­sis­tance pro­gram. If there was a vi­o­la­tion of the law, I sug­gest it’s small and may not war­rant hav­ing a lot of at­ten­tion paid to it. But I be­lieve Com­mis­sioner Mad­dox made the mo­tion to have no more em­ployee pay­roll as­sis­tance pro­grams un­til the board ap­proves a writ­ten pol­icy.”

The is­sue, he said, was not “what was le­gal or ad- vis­able. I think ev­ery­one wishes it didn’t hap­pen. The ques­tion is if the sanc­tions were le­gal and ap­pro­pri­ate.”

The 2-1 vote, with Hen­der­son ab­stain­ing and Com­mis­sioner Lanier Sims ab­sent, re­tains Hen­der­son’s place on the Recre­ation Board and the Nel­son Heights Com­mu­nity Cen­ter board and negates the sanc­tions brought on him in the first place.

After ask­ing the board if there were any mo­tions to amend or negate the sanc­tions placed on his job du­ties re­gard­ing “fleet man­age­ment and en­gi­neer­ing de­part­ments”, Com­mis­sion Chair­man Keith El­lis re­ceived no such mo­tions, keep­ing and so­lid­i­fy­ing the strip­ping of his pow­ers in place.

Dar­rell Everidge/The Cov­ing­ton News

A stand­ing room-only crowd gath­ered at the New­ton County’s His­toric Court­house Tues­day night for the Board of Com­mis­sioner’s meet­ing.

Dar­rell Everidge/The Cov­ing­ton News

J.C. Hen­der­son at the Board of Com­mis­sioner’s meet­ing on Tues­day.

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