Mayor tick­eted for seat­belt, open con­tainer

John­ston takes re­spon­si­bil­ity for his ac­tions, vi­o­la­tions at meet­ing

The Covington News - - LOCAL - JACKIE GUTKNECHT jgutknecht@cov­news.com

Cov­ing­ton Mayor Ron­nie John­ston said he takes full re­spon­si­bil­ity for his ac­tions fol­low­ing the March 20 Cov­ing­ton City Coun­cil meet­ing that re­sulted in him re­ceiv­ing two tick­ets from a Ge­or­gia State Pa­trol (GSP) trooper.

John­ston left the meet­ing and stopped at the BP gas sta­tion on Pace Street on his way home and bought a can of beer. He then re­ceived a call from his wife asking him to stop by Chick-fil-a to also pick up din­ner.

GSP Trooper First Class (TFC) Will Grier no­ticed John­ston’s Nis­san Ti­tan as it was turn­ing off Pace Street and re­ported see­ing John­ston with­out a seat belt.

“I also ob­served the driver drink­ing some­thing wrapped in a brown pa­per bag,” Grier re­ported.

John­ston said, while driv­ing from the BP to Chick-fil-a, he opened the beer and took one sip.

As he pulled into the park­ing lot of the fast-food restau­rant, he was pulled over.

Grier re­ported im­me­di­ately notic­ing the odor of al­co­hol com­ing from inside John­ston’s ve­hi­cle. When asked, John­ston told the trooper he had con­sumed al­co­hol and he had an open con­tainer in the ve­hi­cle.

“John­ston re­trieved a small brown pa­per bag from be­side his right leg con­tain­ing an opened, cold 24-ounce Ice­house beer,” ac­cord­ing to the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safety (DPS) in­ci­dent re­port.

After be­ing asked to exit the ve­hi­cle, Grier re­port­edly con­tin­ued to no­tice the smell of al­co­hol on John­ston’s breath.

“While talk­ing to Mr. John­ston, he iden­ti­fied him­self as the Mayor of Cov­ing­ton,” Grier re­ported. “Mr. John­ston stated the beer was the only al­co­holic bev­er­age he had con­sumed.”

John­ston com­pleted field so­bri­ety tests and re­port­edly did not show any signs that he was un­der the in­flu­ence of al­co­hol. John­ston reg­is­tered a pos­i­tive read­ing of al­co­hol in the pre­lim­i­nary breath test at a rate of 0.010, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. The le­gal limit un­der the State of Ge­or­gia driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence (DUI) law is 0.08.

John­ston was tick­eted for seat­belt and open con­tainer vi­o­la­tion and re­leased.

He said he has since paid the fines as­so­ci­ated with the tick­ets and in­formed fel­low coun­cil mem­bers of the in­ci­dent.

“I’m not go­ing to go through the story of why after a coun­cil meet­ing I had to go get a beer, and I’m not try­ing to make light of the situation be­cause I take full re­spon­si­bil­ity for it,” he said dur­ing Thurs­day night’s Cov­ing­ton Town Hall Meet­ing. “It hap­pened March 20th and there’s a rea­son I haven’t spo­ken about it since then and this may be the only area – in my opin­ion – some peo­ple may think is not right, but I’m just go­ing to be hon­est with you right now. I was em­bar­rassed. I’ve got four kids. I’ve raised them, I’ve done ev­ery­thing right a long time and I made a mis­take and I was em­bar­rassed.”

John­ston said he was hop­ing the in­ci­dent would blow over, but it did not.

“What’s hap­pened is, It has got­ten in the hands of some folks that I think, from what I can tell, would love to have me run out of town for var­i­ous rea­sons I don’t know,” he said.

John­ston said he has been forced to look inside him­self and ques­tion some things.

“Ba­si­cally what has tran­spired over the last two weeks is there has been a full frontal at­tack on your mayor,” he said adding that accu- sa­tions have been made of driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence (DUI) charges, shoot­ing threats and res­ig­na­tion re­quests.

John­ston re­it­er­ated that open­ing a beer in his car was an in­ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion on his part.

“It was wrong and I take full re­spon­si­bil­ity,” he said.

John­ston said after ev­ery­thing tran­spired he first had to apol­o­gize to his fam­ily, then apol­o­gize to the City of Cov­ing­ton and then apol­o­gize to the city em­ploy­ees.

“I will be bet­ter, there will be no prob­lems,” he said.

John­ston said he has a prob­lem with the “lit­eral hate” he faces from some of the cit­i­zens in the com­mu­nity.

“I have been the mayor since 2012. I just got re-elected, I’ll be the mayor un­til 2020,” he said. “There is a whole lot of great things go­ing on in the City of Cov­ing­ton and there is no way that I am go­ing to step down un­til those tasks get done, no way.

“Bot­tom line is, we are track to do some in­cred­i­ble things in this com­mu­nity. Our goal is to try to make it the great­est place in the na­tion to live, the great­est place to have a job, the great­est place to have a fam­ily and it’s all very real.”

John­ston said the city is on track to reach its goals.

“Am I go­ing to let some­thing like this stum­ble me? No,” he said. “Be­cause you have got a mayor right now that does not care about hav­ing a ca­reer in pol­i­tics. I have no de­sire. What I have a de­sire to do is 10 years from now I want to look back and say ‘I was a part of mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in the City of Cov­ing­ton.’ It’s that sim­ple.”

John­ston said he hopes the city is able to for­give him and move on from this in­ci­dent and if that is not pos­si­ble, he hopes cit­i­zens can un­der­stand he is mo­ti­vated to con­tinue to move the city for­ward.

“The bot­tom line is, you have to deal with me un­til 2020 and you can de­cide what you want to do from that point for­ward,” he said.

John­ston en­cour­ages cit­i­zens to call him on his cell phone, which is avail­able on the city’s web­site.

Jackie Gutknecht | The Cov­ing­ton News

Cov­ing­ton Mayor Ron­nie John­ston is­sues a state­ment Thurs­day night dur­ing Cov­ing­ton’s Town Hall Meet­ing.

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