Please identify what you view as the top three challenges for the city of Covington in the next four years and please be specific about how, if elected, you would take action to address those challenges:
- Barriers to retail business recruitment – Growing our commercial sector is crucial from a tax base, employment, and quality of life perspective. But, with 25% of Covington’s residents living below the poverty level and 65% of students in Newton County schools classified as “economically disadvantaged” per federal guidelines, we have a tough sell to potential investors. Progress requires a multi-pronged approach. We can sell our strengths and highlight the unique small-town charm, rich history, and tourism assets of our community. Tourists bring disposable income to help offset what we lack in buying power. But, in parallel, we must address the underlying causes of pervasive poverty. Housing is one key element the city has started to address through public/private partnerships with specialized developers. This needs to continue with stronger council backing. Education and skills are another factor, and I will continue to support programs like the career academy. Transportation also matters, in that jobs and other life essentials are not always within reach of those without reliable transportation. In our planning, I will stress the importance of live/work/plan development that puts more employment options within walking distance.
- Overcoming the loss of experienced leadership – While not necessarily related, the retirement of City Manager Steve Horton was the first in a series of departures creating openings in key leadership positions across the city. The Finance Director, Utilities Director, Transportation Director, and Main Street Program Director positions have all been vacated in the last year. While not city employees, turnover of several key positions at the Chamber of Commerce has also impacted efforts to recruit and retain business for the city. As a councilmember, I will encourage the City Manager to establish development programs and succession planning to ensure we are always ready to deal with key leadership changes – planned or unplanned.
- Building a productive city/county partnership – It’s been evident in recent years -- on key programs like Economic Development, Main Street, Tourism, and SPLOST -- that City of Covington and Newton County leaders are not always pulling in the same direction. Programs like the Leadership Collaborative provide a framework for partnership, but it takes personal involvement and open, honest relationships to truly partner for better outcomes. As a councilmember, I will bring fact-based assessments, straight talk, and win-win thinking to my relationships with other leaders in the community. I will lead by example in putting the interests of the city as a whole above any other special interests.