BELTON — Mayor Jim Covington announced Monday he will not seek re-election.
Covington, who was first elected to the Belton City Council in 1995, downplayed recent concerns about his health and said his decision was motivated by a desire to see “younger leadership.”
“If I were to be elected again, I’d be 72 years old by the end of my term,” Covington said. “I really think it’s time for someone younger to be in charge.”
During his time in office, both as a councilman and as mayor, Covington helped steer Belton away from what he termed “management by crisis.”
“Prior to the year 2000, we went from one problem to another,” he said. “In 2000 we passed the city of Belton’s strategic plan, which we review every year and update every five years.”
Under Covington’s leadership, Belton was repeatedly recognized with awards from the Texas Municipal League. The city was honored with a Preserve America Presidential Award in 2008 and a Scenic City Award in 2010.
The city was awarded more than $1.5 million in grant funds to improve city parks and upgrade the Nolan Creek recreation and flood mitigation program. Covington said his desire to see Nolan Creek improved was the main reason he got into politics.
“The first time I ran for office I wanted to do something about the creek,” he said. “We had an uncut gem flowing through Belton.”
After almost two decades of struggle, Covington’s passion was rewarded when the Belton City Council approved an ambitious plan to improve Nolan Creek in 2012. The project, which already received $200,000 in grant funding and another $200,000 from Belton’s capital improvement plan, will raise the water level in the creek 12 to 18 inches and add seven small waterfalls through a two-mile area.
“This will bring people to kayak, tube and canoe in Belton who aren’t Beltonians,” Covington said. Along with the Nolan Creek project, Covington’s time as mayor was marked by a prolonged effort to build the Ninth Avenue bridge over Nolan Creek, which will connect Ninth Avenue to Loop 121.
“When my term ends in May, I’ll have been in office for eight years,” Covington said. “Seven of those years were spent trying to get the Ninth Avenue bridge built.”
He characterized the bridge project as something that will have a lasting impact as Belton and Bell County grow. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates Belton had a population of about 14,000 people in 1995. As Covington prepares to leave office, the population is about 19,500 and growing at a rate of about 25 percent per decade.
“I saw a projection that said that Belton would have 50,000 people by 2025,” Covington said.
Maryanne Grayson, who serves as Belton’s mayor pro tem, said Covington has done “an amazing job and worked hard for Belton.”
“After 20 years, he’s earned a chance to take it easy,” Grayson said.
Grayson, who is up for re-election this year, said she is “leaning toward” a run for mayor but isn’t ready to make an official announcement.
“I’ll be ready to announce by the filing deadline,” Grayson said.
In addition to Covington and Grayson’s positions, Councilman John Agan is up for re-election this year.
Belton will hold municipal elections May 10. The filing period begins Jan. 29 and ends Feb. 28.