By Billy Corriher
After 12 years as Clayton County government's leader, Crandle Bray has decided it's time for a change.
Bray announced Wednesday that he will not seek another term as chairman of the county Board of Commissioners.
"I gave it a lot of thought and decided it's time to redirect what I'm doing," he said.
Bray has guided the county through explosive growth in the past 12 years. The county's population has grown from 182,000 people in 1990 to more than 250,000 last year.
"(The population boom) creates a lot of tension," Bray said. "We're more urbanized and that brings additional challenges."
The county has particularly seen an explosion in its minority residents. The county's population was 72 percent white in 1990, and was 51 percent black in 2000.
Bray said that, despite the changes in the county, most residents want the same things from their local representation n quality schools, programs for youth, and preserving the county's quality of life.
"Through all that change, (the county) is still a united people working together," Bray said.
Commissioner Carl Rhodenizer said Bray's leadership in the growing county will be missed.
"I think he's done a great job and has a wealth of experience," Rhodenizer said. "It's going to be extremely hard to replace him."
Bray's assistant, Wade Starr, Jr., is planning to run for his position and Bray said he would endorse him.
"I think he has the qualifications," he said.
Former Atlanta Police Chief Eldrin Bell is also expected to kick off his campaign for chairman in about a month.
Bray said he is not sure what the big issues will be in the race to replace him, but he hopes his successor will want to build on what his administration has done.
"I would hope it would be rewarding for (a candidate) to say ?I'm interested in keeping things like they are,'" he said.
Bray said his decision to step down had nothing to do with the recent controversy with state Rep. Victor Hill, D-College Park, who is also a county police officer.
Hill claims that Bray influenced county police Chief Darrell Partain in his decision to deny Hill a leave of absence to serve in the state legislature. But Bray said the allegations have no merit and were an attempt to get publicity for Hill's campaign for county sheriff.
Bray credits his long tenure as chairman to his philosophy on governing and making the right decision despite the political ramifications.
When he was facing a lot of opposition from the community on a particularly contentious issue, the decision to acquire the county's water park known as "The Beach," Bray said he went to his preacher for guidance.
"He told me to go home and pray and decide what's right and don't get off the course. I've done that ever since," he said.
Another issue that caused a backlash from his constituents was Bray's campaign to get voters to approve a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
"This county couldn't get a SPLOST passed for years," he said. But after he convinced voters to approve the initiative, Bray said most residents told him they appreciated the projects funded by the SPLOST.
"I think people have gained confidence in what we've been trying," he said.
Bray has also been pushing transportation projects for Clayton County as chair of the Atlanta Regional Commission, which oversees transportation and infrastructure issues for the metro-Atlanta area.
Before he leaves office in a year, though, Bray said he wants to make sure many of the SPLOST projects, like new youth and senior centers, are making progress or get completed.
Getting the projects off the ground has been a lengthy and frustrating process, Bray said, but he wants to see them to fruition.
"I'm getting to where I can see the light at the end of the tunnel," he said.
Bray said that after his term expires in January of 2005, he has no desire for another elected position.
Bray said he would like to have more time to spend on his farm where he trains and cares for horses. Other than that, he said he has not made any plans on what to do after leaving office.
"I've got a year to think about it."