08 October 2019

Phil Johnson Selected as Newton Co. Board of Elections Chair; Concerns & Questions Abound

By: MB McCart, Ed. 

Last Tuesday as its regular meeting the Newton Co. Board of Commissioners (BOC) had a few things on the agenda including replacing the man - Hugh Steele - who'd served as Chairman of the county's Board of Elections (BOElec) for decades. The BOC voted, unanimously, to select Phil Johnson as the new Chair of this county board. 

There'd been talk over the last few weeks that the BOC had been indeed zeroing in on Johnson & it really wasn't surprising to this writer. I mean, it's just the reality of the situation. You've got three Democrats on the BOC (really 4 if you add Ronnie Cowan), and...is what it is.

What bothered some, though, was that there was really no discussion or questions as to the process of Johnson's selection, nor to the seemingly nonchalant brushing aside of the historical (and codified) methodology of having a "non-partisan" selection as the Chair of the BOElec.

Because, obviously, Phil Johnson isn't a non-partisan. I mean, hell, he was Chairman of the Newton Co. Democratic Party a year ago! And I believe he's ran as a Democrat for public office...at least five times, if you go back to his days of the Georgia General Assembly.

So, there you have it on that front.

However, the big gripe that I'm hearing from many is due to the fact that there are issues with Johnson & his past that some think should have precluded him from this position. 

Here's a piece of mine from last year: 

Attorney Phil Johnson's Greatest Hits

As reported by a few publications, the city of Covington has recently denied a rezoning request for a particular tract of land, owned by Freddy Neely, in which Phil was involved to facilitate said zoning change for a large, multifamily development. Many folks were not thrilled about the prospect of such a large development & cheered the decision. In addition, the city had previously instituted a 60-day moratorium to be able to revisit & tweak their ordinances in preparation for the apparent incoming onslaught of growth & new development, and that, in my estimation, was a great move by this forward-thing city council we are fortunate to have.

But going back to Phil, he's kind of an easy target for derision in our community. Now don't get me wrong, he's got his fans, supporters & cheerleaders, but like many of us, he's got a good number of detractors & "haters."

Before I get into the list, let me just say this: I like Phil. He's a cool dude. Great conversationalist, obviously smart as hell. Personally, I like him. He's just one of those special guys. Always reminds me of "A Man in Full," the genius work from the recently departed Tom Wolfe (RIP). Especially the part about the guy the main character remembers reading about - (paraphrasing) - a man, from humble & hardscrabble origins, who had it all; lost it all; had it all again; lost it all again, etc.  

The old fella has built it back up pretty good, hasn't he?

Another gripe by many in & around the home city & county is how Phil may have been as responsible as anyone for the "Great Selling Out of Newton Co." back in the late 90s & early aughts. Well, if you're going to pick one, I might have to vote for Hubert Huberto White, but really the biggest blame has to be laid on the feet of the multiple editions of the Newton Co. BOC during that time (so, again, Hubert).

Oh well, regardless, here's some of the best of the best of Phil:

- the alleged driving force of the Mosque deal out in the western part of Newton. Once again representing land owner Freddy Neely in a situation that left many scratching their heads as how it could've gone completely under the radar until former Newton BOC Chair Keith Ellis took it upon himself to break the story to the Newton Citizen.

       - Speaking of Freddy Neely, it is my understanding that Phil, as his legal representation, was integrally involved with getting the city to basically throw out most of the specific, detailed ordinance in the by-pass corridor that several other businesses had to follow when it came to the development of Freddy's distilled-spirit behemoth - Nitro 2 Go.

- he was the attorney involved in the infamous Bad News Bear Creek deal which saw Newton Co. pay approx. 1 & 1/2 million bucks for some land only to eventually quit-claim it back to the original landowners.

- and there are others, some maybe true, going back to the 1980s. But, let's not forget this one: 

- being singularly responsible - and Phil will tell you this - for bringing Wm Thomas Craig, Esq. to Newton Co. in 1975.

Atty Phil Johnson, folks! The gift that keeps on giving... 

Finally, some were specifically upset with BOC1 Representative Stan Edwards for not at least voting against Johnson's selection. Plus, there were questions as to whether or not Stan was going to set up a Phil Johnson Fan Club.

Well, I spoke with my friend Stan, and he responded back basically telling me what I already knew. See the aforementioned reality of the situation I referenced at the beginning of this article. Hey, that's just how it is. And Stan did tell me that being on the losing end of 4-1 votes gets pretty old & though sometimes, but that maybe some political capital could be earned to help his representation of the 1st District's Citizens as well as Newton Co. as a whole.

I can dig it.

Okay for now, 'til next time. 

- MB McCart