23 August 2016

[TPC] - Curiouser & Curiouser: Drama, Intrigue & Alleged Blackmail on the Newton Co. BOC

The Piedmont Chronicles 
~ est. 2010 ~

[State of GA]
[Newton Co.]
(Covington, GA * 8/23/16)

~ Curiouser & Curiouser: Drama, Intrigue & Alleged Blackmail on the Newton Co. BOC ~

Just when you thought things couldn't get more crazy, weird, and out of control in the home county, this news, as reported today by The Covington News, hit the proverbial and electronic newsstands.

BOC Chair Keith Ellis is claiming by that BOC members Lanier Sims and Levie Maddox tried to blackmail him...back in January. Ellis seems to claim this is part of the reason why he was not made aware of the proposed mosque situation. That he's been pushed to the margins and has been out of the loop. 

From The Covington News article written by its Editor, Bryan Fazio:

In a document submitted to The Covington News, on Tuesday, Newton County Commission Chair Keith Ellis said District 2 Commissioner Lanier Sims and District 5 Commissioner Levie Maddox “blackmailed” him in a meeting held between the three men in January and that he had reported the effort to law enforcement at the time.
In an “Open Letter to the People of Newton County,” Ellis said the effort was an attempt at forcing him to relinquish his authority on the board, and that he has been largely ostracized by the commission since.
Ellis said Sims and Maddox threatened to “make public an audio tape where they said I had offered to help a potential landfill operator in exchange for ‘campaign contributions.’” He said no such tape ever existed.
Both Sims and Maddox told The News on Tuesday that they did not threaten Ellis with blackmail.
“Absolutely not,” Maddox said. “There is no foundation to that at all.”
“No.” Sims said. “I don’t have an audio or video tape of the Chairman so I have nothing to blackmail him on.”

And then there's this:

“I write this to let you know, much to my regret, despite my responsibility as Chairman of the Board of Commissioners and head of the Road Department, to manage future increases in traffic, neither the Commissioners nor the Development Services staff let me know anything about this proposed 135-acre development,” Ellis said in his letter. “I only learned about it as the citizens did.”

Calls put into both Levie Maddox and Keith Ellis by M.B. McCart, Editor of The Chronicles, have not been returned as of press time.

So...the big questions here:

- Did this event occur?

- With these two differing accounts, who is lying, or at least, who has a misinterpreted recollection of these events?

- Does this mean that other persons on the Newton Co. BOC did indeed have previous knowledge of last year's sale of the 135 acres on Hwy 162 by the Neely Family to Al Maad at Islami, Inc. and the Administrative Use Permit issued by Newton Co. Development Services?

We'll stay on top of this one, and we are still planning on reaching out to Newton Co. Development Services and filing an ORR for all pertinent documents relating to this situation.



21 August 2016

[TPC] - The Sunday Edition - 21 August 2016

The Piedmont Chronicles 
~ est. 2010 ~

[State of GA]
[Newton Co.]
(Covington, GA * 8/21/16) * Greetings, fine readers, and welcome back to another Sunday Edition of The Piedmont Chronicles. In this issue: 

~ Local Happenings 
~ Real Politick 
~ Sports, Art, Music & Leisure 
~ A Moment from Us 


As has been the case for the better part of almost two weeks, the big talk of C-town and the home county has, of course, been the proposed Mosque and cemetery out on Hwy 162 and County Line Rd. We've covered this story a time or two but there is now new information to report:

- Now the term, "lawsuit," is being bantered about. NAACP and CAIR are now involved. And this thing has hit state and national news outlets. It's getting on everybody's radar. However, according to Newton County, Al Maad Al Islami, has not submitted anything yet. They were given a letter that said the Administrative Use Permit would be issued, but they still have to go through the permitting process. As I mentioned in the last write-up, and I think it bears repeating, the Administrative Use Permit has many contingencies and conditions involved. From the letter from Newton Co.:

"Specifically, that the project could not have "negative impacts from the proposed use including aesthetics, traffic, public health and safety," and also that the use "would not cause unreasonable adverse impact on the adjoining land due to noise, smoke, odor, [or] hours of operation..." [***UPDATE - see below***] 

This story will be quite the thing, fellow Newtonians, and it will be unlike anything we've ever seen. I think the "Our Thoughts" from today's Covington News, is a recommended read by everybody following this issue, regardless of which side you're on.

- In a follow up on a story I mentioned a few write-ups ago, I got some clarification on the parked cars situation in which the city made one property owner get rid of parked cars next to the Waffle House at Hwy 278 and John Williams Hwy, but allowed them to remain across the corner in the Ingles Shopping Center. For one thing, someone apparently complained about the parked cars on the lot owned by Mike Jones. Secondly, there is no prohibition against leaving cars parked on either parcel, but it is in the zoning regulations that they can't be parked on dirt or grass. That, apparently, was the key difference. So remember, C-town folks, when you're driving around town in the commercial districts, you shouldn't ever see a parked vehicle on grass or dirt. It, as I'm told, must be on pavement of some sort.

- The Newton Citizen reported about an apparent "power play" with the Newton Co. Board of Recreation. It's not worth your time, so I'm not linking it. So...do the people who serve on all of these boards, do they get paid? Any compensation at all? Per diems, or anything of the like? I think I'm going to look into that. I honestly don't know. I've had people say that's the case, but I've had other people say that it wasn't. I'll definitely look into it.

And I'm still working on getting the campaign reports from several of the folks running for county office. I was hoping Bryan at The News was going to get to it first, but you know how those pressmen are...


In the words of Ben Harper, "it's a drag!" That's all I can stomach for this week...

Sports, Art, and Music

- Football is back! At least at the high school level. All three Newton teams won as Eastside downed Luella, 23-0; Alcovy got past Duluth, 27-19; and Newton took out Drew by a score of 25 to 13. The NFL pre-season is in full swing, and we're less than two weeks away from the important stuff - College Football! So exciting.

- Musically, it was another big week in this musical hotbed that we call home. Local faves Chris, Jon & Scott, JJ & Micah, Whiskey Bent, and several others all played this past weekend. As some of you may know, I do a musical weekly column for The Covington News. You can check it out in today's print edition, or be on the lookout for the online edition later in the week. I will post a link to that here at The Chronicles when it comes out. This upcoming week looks like another great one. Featured shows will include: Benson & Leinweber at The Mystic; Drew Parker at The Social House, Tiger and Kathy at Sycamore; and Cochran Road at 5 O'Clock Somewhere. All of those shows will be on Saturday, August 27th.

-This edition's featured artist is: Two Sisters Color Creations.  These two sisters, Mary Ellen and Cindy, are both just fabulously and wonderfully talented. Some of the best artwork you'll find anywhere around.

A Moment From Us

In this crazy and sometimes scary world in which we live, it's always nice to see a true "feel good" story, and the home county saw one this past week. As reported by fellow Newton Co. publication, All on Georgia - Newton, and its Editor and friend-of-the-program, Liz Allen, a special thing occurred at the CPD headquarters when Sgt. Allen Martin - an old friend and one hell of a guy (and a great Rock'n'Roll singer, too) - did a really cool thing. Good on ya', Mr. Martin, and good on ya' too, Mrs. Allen, for reporting this wonderful story! 


Well, gang, that'll do it for this one. Hope all is well out there and always remember - we are proudly a part of The Tonto Network. We're here to help. Send out those smoke signals if you need us... 


***UPDATE - an alert reader let me know that I may have been incorrect in that I may have misread the "the AUP letter. The items you quote are not contingencies, they are the criteria by which the application was evaluated and by which approval was granted. The future conditions that must be met for permitting are spelled out after that." I believe the reader is correct, and we apologize for the error. Thanks for reading! 

18 August 2016

[tpc] - An Update on the Newton Co. Mosque Situation

The Piedmont Chronicles 
~ est. 2010 ~
[State of GA]
[Newton Co.]

(Covington, GA * 8/18/16) - This piece is a follow up to an article from Sunday

Much has been written about and much has been made of the recent news that an Islamic Mosque will soon be a reality in Newton Co. There has been much hand-wringing and consternation; a lot of speculation and opinions. It's been quite the thing here in the home county.

Recently, Phil Johnson, attorney for the Neely family and a key player in all of this drama, has written a letter to both of the local papers to clear the air and give his and his clients' side of the story to these events.

Here's what we know, according to Mr. Johnson:

- The sales price for this deal that was reported by The Newton Citizen (and also reported by this publication after referencing The Newton Citizen article ) was apparently erroneous. Per Johnson:

 Finally, though it is somewhat irrelevant, the sales price which was quoted in the paper as $1.3Million was grossly inaccurate. The property was originally split into two parcels for tax purposes - not sure why, but they were 0050-00000-001-000 and 0050-00000-001-B00. The PT-61 form 107-2015-002897 for Warranty Deed recorded at Deed Book 3358, Page 122, public records of Newton County, Georgia shows the total consideration for the property to be $675,900 for both parcels. When the Newton Citizen reporter, Alice Queen, checked this she apparently saw on the tax assessors sales activity for each parcel a sale for $675,900, but she didn’t check to see that they were on the same warranty.
For what it's worth, I went to the Newton Co. tax assessor's webpage, and confirmed what Phil said - both tracts referenced the same Deed Book and Page, which leads this writer to believe that the actual sale amount was indeed $675,900. I can easily understand the error of The Citizen, if this is the case, because it was shown that both tracts went for the aforementioned amount, making for a total of approx. $1.3 Million. But, it seems that this was incorrect. If true, the $675,900 purchase price definitely seems to be more in line with what real estate is going for in this area vs. the thought that this tract went for $10,000 per acre. 

- But the biggest thing was a letter that was provided by Mr. Johnson to me, and others, from zoning director Judy Johnson, on Newton Co. official letterhead, that references the project to Al Maad Al Islami Inc., in June of 2015, that says that the Administrative Use Permit was accepted, but based on multiple contingencies. Specifically, that the project could not have "negative impacts from the proposed use including aesthetics, traffic, public health and safety," and also that the use "would not cause unreasonable adverse impact on the adjoining land due to noise, smoke, odor, [or] hours of operation..."

So...maybe this thing isn't necessarily a done deal, after all? 

The big concern for many has been whether or not the Neely Family and Phil Johnson, Esq. knew what the full extent of this project was. We now know - they fully knew. But there was not an attempt, as far as this writer can discern, to try to hide that fact. Based on all available documents, everybody, including Newton Co. Planning and Zoning, knew that this just wasn't "Avery Community Church," but rather "Al Maad Al Islami." How it stayed under the radar for so long? That's a good question. As many have said, the timing seemed suspect. But...that's the reality of the situation that we find ourselves in. 

As an aside, I just have to say that the past week and a half has been quite the experience. It reminds me of a lyric from the band, Stealers Wheel - "clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you." It seems as if both sides in this tired, drawn-out escapade have been equally harsh and ridiculous. Sure, there's been a lot of bigotry and racism on one side, but there's also been a ton of elitism, tone-deafness, and vitriol from the other side. It's really been something. It seems like neither side can appreciate the fact that situations like this are never black-and-white. There, to me, has to be an empathy and an appreciation for those who have lived in this area for generations - and to those who've lived there just a short time - who are now seeing their entire lives changed. You have to see that. But there is equally no excuse for some of the beyond-the-pale comments that we've seen from some in our community. 

I think, as I often do, of two famous quotes: 

"Between the idea. And the realityBetween the motion. And the act. Falls the Shadow" 

"There are two sides to every story and the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle." 

Just another day in Newton, right?

Thanks for reading. 'Til next time...

14 August 2016

[tpc] - Sunday Check-in: Talkin' Mosque in Newton Co; Covington Zoning Inconsistencies

The Chronicles
14 August '16

Howdy, fine people. Hope all is well out there.

So the big news this past week here in the home county, obviously, was when the Newton Citizen ran an article revealing the fact that land has been bought in the western part of the county for a proposed Mosque, Muslim School, Cemetery, and possibly a residential area. By all accounts, the Mosque and cemetery, at least, are done deals as they don't require zoning approval. 

The land, approx. 135 acres, was sold by Neely Family Farms to Al Maad Al Islami last August for the sum of $1.3 million. The registered agent for Neely Family Farms is Phil Johnson, who recently unsuccessfully ran for Newton Co. Chairman. According to multiple accounts, Mr. Johnson also acted as an Attorney/Agent on this deal. That's almost a $10,000 price per acre.

The timing on this is also a concern for many. Why didn't this news break back in May of last year when Neely Family Farms tendered the original letter of intent? Why not in August of last year when it sold? Why did the news not break at any point this year until now? Like back in the Spring, or around the month of May, or at least in July? The concerns and questions many have is whether or not Phil Johnson's run for BOC Chair, or the opening of a new business by the Neely family, had anything to do with it. It seems like a fair question.

The Citizen also ran a follow up piece where John Douglass and Keith Ellis were both quoted. Keith, especially, had some pretty strong words:

“As news broke concerning this Muslim development, I was surprised to find that zoning changes would not be made,” Ellis said. “The board may have to address a conditional use permit (for a proposed school on the site). Given the opportunity, if it is constitutional, I would oppose the request. My first knowledge of the development led me to the Tax Assessor’s website. There I found who the previous owners had been. Needless to say, I was disappointed. Money talks!”

Damn, Keith...tell us how you really feel.

This has now made state headlines as WSB has apparently covered it, and also the national level with reports by Freedom Outpost and The Washington Standard.

We'll be following up on this one, and I hope to be able to try to reach out to Judy Johnson, zoning administrator for Newton Co., within the next day or two.

City of Covington: Different Rules for Different Folks? 

Last year a local business and property owner started to allow cars to be parked on his corner lot at Hwy 278 and John Williams Hwy, right next to the Waffle House by Sonic. That didn't last long as, apparently and allegedly, the city of Covington informed the owner that parking cars there violated the city's zoning regulations. The cars went away.

Fast forward a couple of months, and a multitude of cars - at times a hundred or more, allegedly owned by Ginn Motor Co., started getting parked in the shopping center parking lot (Martin's Crossing)just across the corner, maybe about a hundred yards or so as the crow flies. Same zoning, as far as this writer can discern, but no demand by Covington to remove the cars. This has been going on for many months. After talking with a few folks, the consensus view is that this is typical C-town - one set of rules for a select few, a different set for the rest of us.

It reminds me of how the city recently - allegedly - revised some of their zoning ordinances for a new local business on the Covington by-pass after previously enacting and requiring dozens of businesses to adhere to a stricter standard in the same corridor. Again, it seems like who you are makes all the difference. As a born and bred C-town boy, I've been seeing stuff like this all of my life. But in this day and age, it seems as if antics like these, if true, need to go away.



09 August 2016

[tpc] - J.C. Henderson and others head up Johnny Isakson's Newton County Campaign Team.

The Chronicles
9 August 2016

Johnny Isakson, Chamber darling and well-known RINO, has announced his leadership teams and committees in Georgia, including here in Newton Co.

Leading up the Newton County contingent is Democratic BOC Commissioner J.C. Henderson, soon-to-be-former BOC Chairman Keith Ellis, disgraced plagiarist and former Newton Co. GOP Chairman Bill Perugino, Delia Fleming, Mort Ewing, Julius Hays and a few others.

Quite the team you've assembled there, Johnny...

Henderson, a 6-term Democrat here in Newton Co., follows in the footsteps of David Scott, a Democratic congressman in Georgia, who has also endorsed Isakson.

Many over the years have voiced their concerns and disdain for Senator Isakson as an out-of-touch and establishment politician. In this writer's opinion, this doesn't look to shore up his support here in the home county.


08 August 2016

[tpc] - Gone Fishin'...Again.

The Piedmont Chronicles
8 August '16 

[State of GA]
[Newton Co.]

~~~ (North Covington) ~~~ 

May 23rd. That was the date of the my last post here. Man...doesn't seem like it was that long ago. I knew I should have put up the "Gone Fishin'" sign. Just had a feeling...

Well, I didn't. I haven't completely gone away. I've posted a good bit on the Book of Faces, at least on my personal page, including some political stuff. In terms of writing, I've mainly been concentrating on my music and entertainment columns over at The Covington News. I sure enjoy doing those, and as some of you may know - while I "wear many hats [and while] being a musician and a musical enthusiast are chief among them" - I still have that thirst; no, scratch that, that need, to cover the political stuff.

But it's just not the political stuff. I've found myself needing to write about a lot of other things, too. To that point, you will see, most likely starting this weekend, also in The Covington News, a new offering. A new featured column called "The Esoteric South." Think of it as a blend between Grizzard and Hunter S. Thompson. I think it's gonna be pretty good. I sure hope so. The first edition will be entitled, "Talkin' Southern'." You'll be able to read those columns on this page as well.

But...as Tennessee W. would say, "like a moth to the flame," I just can't help myself. I've got to start writing about the Real Politick again. And who can blame me? We've got some great material to work with coming down the pike, no? Here in Newton, we've got Aaron "Hank Sr." Varner, the man who served as Chair of the BOC during the "Great Sell-out of Newton County;" going up against Marcello "No Show" Banes, who apparently likes tents and who may or may not be "dumber than a bucket of warm spit," for Commission Chair. We've got a US Senate race on between "Shufflin '& Chamber-lovin' Johnny"; Barksdale, the rich Dem, and a guy I've known and respected for 12 years - Allen Buckley, the Libertarian. And of course, we've got the Presidential race going on. How could I pass all that that up?!

So, I guess I'm back in the saddle, and if I had put up that "Gone Fishin'" sign a few months ago, I'd definitely be taking it down right about now. There's obviously a lot to catch up on and to cover. Here's a sampling of what will be easin' down the street the next few weeks:

  • A few days back on FB, I had posted some fairly negative stuff about Ronnie Cowan, presumed Commissioner-elect of Newton's 5th district (I say presumed, because a certified write-in could still qualify). Within about 10 hours of that post, I found myself having a face-to-face convo with that fella, per his request. I'll fill you in on that. And speaking of that race - Jared Rutberg lost by, what, 35 votes? Man...what a shame. Jared would have been a good one. 
  • I'll be going by the Newton County Board of Elections to check the campaign reports of Ronnie Cowan, Marcello Banes, and perhaps one or two others. Who's writin' them boys (and gals) checks? Inquiring minds want to know... 
  • Looking into the Newton Co. Solid Waste Authority. And are the trash convenience centers really going away? 
  • The Cow Palace. Initial funding is there, and the BOC has passed it, but what of maintenance and operating expenses? Who's going to staff it? How much money will this add to the Newton Co. budget moving forward? 
  • And did the city of Covington raise property taxes? Technically speaking, yes they did! Mr. Mayor, Ronnie Johnson, was the deciding vote. Speaking of C-town, the enthralling tale of "The Gazebo that Wouldn't Go Away." Or, maybe it has...  
  • New Library Board appointees, and is Bill Perugino still on that thing? I think he's still on the Board of Elections
  • And is there a new push by a small number of Newton Co. residents to try to bring back the ill-fated Bear Creek Reservoir project? 

Musical Interlude:

Millsaps. The Man.
The Myth. The Legend.
A quick aside: while I will be getting back into the political stuff, it will be a part of a broader grouping of issues and subjects. Balance. A key word. For me, I just can't go all politics, all the time. It makes feel low; or, as Stephen King would say, it gives me the "bad-gunky." I've got to mix it in with other things. So from here on out, look for local arts, entertainment, food & dining and music. And I'll also be doing some human-interest stuff and talking about life and some other things. And as some of you may remember, the original Piedmont Chronicles was centered around local history, and there will be some of that as well.  Local columnists? Check. I've had several folks ask about Ellis "Da" Millsaps. He's alive, and doing fine. You'll be seeing more of him soon. You might be seeing other columnists as well. So...a TPC reset. Does this sound familiar? Have I done this before?

"No comment."


Good to be back with you. 'Til next time... 

P.S. Wanted to give a shout-out to a fellow writer. Her name is Jessica Szilagyi, and she blogs at the other "TPC." She's an inspiration of mine; I always truly enjoy reading her stuff. 

Kindly Yours,

M.B. McCart 


23 May 2016

[tpc] - Thoughts about Politics in Newton County on this Election Eve

The Piedmont Chronicles 
23 May 2016 
~ est. 2010 ~
Greetings, fine readers. Hope everything is okay out there. As well as they can be. We've got this election on and all. Lord help us... 

I know I've been a bit quiet on TPC. I've been a bit more active, politically, on Facebook where I've put up posts for some of the folks I'm supporting. Guys like Stan Edwards, who's running for the 1st district of the Newton Co. Board of Commissioners. I've gotten to know Stan pretty well the last few months and I really like him and think he's exactly the type of person we need. Same with Travis Moore, 5th district candidate. I'm a big fan, and I think he would be a great addition to the Board as well. And also Shannon Sneed, GOP candidate for Probate Judge, who has, in my estimation, the right combination of experience and temperament to effectively serve in that important capacity.

I must admit that I've kind of lost my taste for politics the past couple of months as things have unfolded in the way that they have. Politics is a mean and nasty business, and I've always known that, but I suppose I was honestly surprised at just how crazy, intense, backwards and sideways things got. You can have people in total agreement on one candidate, but then ready to go to fisticuffs on another one.  I've seen three people, from different sides of the political spectrum and at different sides of the perceived power structure, that I consider friends - or at least acquaintances - get unfairly and falsely accused of all sorts of things. Things I won't go into here, but if you've been on Facebook, you've seen it. Those three: Phil Johnson, Levie Maddox, and Susette Monk. 
And that leads me to another recent development/dynamic in this ugly, dirty campaign season. The rise of anonymous pages spewing some major bile and, excuse my french, some major bullshit. The two main culprits are Newton County Watchdog and Newton County Guardians. Based on my judgement, the Guardians page is the more egregious violator as at least the Watchdog page has had some pretty decent content, while I disagreed on at least a few of the things they posted. There are theories as to who are behind these, and I've got my own. I've even had a couple of folks asked if I was involved with either one. I guess those people didn't know me as well as I thought they did. Whatever. It's been wicked and nasty. And that's too bad. 

And then there's the Tommy Craig factor. Just like many others, I would have to figure that he is neck-deep in several of these races. Is he involved with some of this other stuff? Maybe. But you know what? I don't think it matters. I've been called the eternal optimist before, but I just have a strong feeling that things are going to work out for us here in Newton County. And while the "Alliance," "Coalition," or the proverbial "Newton County 12" or whatever you want to call it has seemingly been somewhat fractured, I feel confident that things will get back into balance and there will be a united front once again. Because we all saw how amazing that was and how much it accomplished. I feel very confident in that.

Then there's the old-guard factor, or, the establishment factor, if you will. Well, there's not much to that. They - folks like Mort Ewing, The Flemings, Hubert White, and more - are upfront about it. You can just look at their yard signs. They like Aaron Varner for Chair, that's for sure. Mort and the rest of the usual suspects out in the eastern part of the county are supporting Bradley for BOC 1. And it seems as if a lot of the estab. types prefer Ronnie Cowan for BOC 5 and Melanie Bell for Probate Judge. The complete opposite of what a lot of folks - yours truly included - are supporting.

And that leads us to BOC Chair and the 3rd district.

- Regarding the Chairman position, a lot of you know how much hell I've given Levie, or Valet Levie, as I've called him a few times. Well, I'll tell you this. I'm pulling a GOP ticket tomorrow and I will indeed be voting for Levie. Crazy, I know. But as far as I can figure, he did free himself from the Establishment and/or Craig faction, and I feel like he's the better pick. And if I was pulling a Dem ticket, I'd definitely have to vote for Phil.

- The 3rd. I've mentioned this on Facebook, and I'll mention it here - I've known Susette a long time and consider her a friend, and I'm positive she's not a part of some Machiavellian ploy on behalf of the forces of old and evil. I think she's gotten a pretty bad rap and I think it's been tough on her. And I hate it for her. A lot of folks I know are firmly in support of Nancy Schulz and I understand that. Nancy's done some good things for the county and has been an integral piece of the puzzle in getting things somewhat fixed in the past year. But I will say this. She always talked a good talk but seemed short on the walk part for a pretty long time. Just like in January of last year, she gave a great speech, and then she proceeded to vote with the other four members of the board to renew Tommy Craig's contract. But perhaps she's learned a lesson from that. I hope so. 

And a final thought. And it's one I always have to remember. Politics is, after all, a human institution. And as such, it will always have its shortcomings, disappointments and failings. It's an imperfect thing because we are imperfect beings. But for many of us, we continue to strive. For that more perfect Union. To do the right things, and to do things right. And to try to make the world a better place. And that's a beautiful thing.

Well...didn't mean to write a book there or anything, but I had a lot to cover. That's my 2 cents, for whatever its worth.

As always, thanks for reading.

'Till next time.  

-Marshall McCart