Mayor ticketed for seatbelt, open container
Johnston takes responsibility for his actions, violations at meeting
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.
Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston issues a statement Thursday night during Covington’s Town Hall Meeting.