By Justin Boron
Outgoing county commission Chairman Crandle Bray, outgoing Commissioner Gerald Matthews and Commissioner Charlie Griswell saddled up to a podium Thursday night for a going away ceremony that marks the end of two politicians' combined 31-year tenure in Clayton County.
"The three amigos," or what they admit some have called them - "the three stooges" - toasted each other, closing down more than a decade of government and politics that was witness to the transformation of a county.
Since Bray and Matthews joined the Clayton County Board of Commissioners in 1992, Clayton County's population has swelled and become one of the most diverse in the Atlanta region.
The event took place at the Clayton County International Park, which was one of the major acquisitions during Bray's tenure.
It was host to Olympic volleyball in the 1996 games held in Atlanta, and has since become a weekend picnic hot spot and source for Clayton County outdoor recreation.
Before the ceremony began, Litman and Lucresia Miller watched Bray cruise the crowd of supporters from their table, giving praise to the outgoing chairman.
"He brought a lot of money and industry to the community," Litman Miller said. "When the new commissioner comes in, we hope what Mr. Bray put into place will continue with his blessing."
Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor showed up to the event, reflecting the scope of Bray's influence in the Atlanta region during his political career.
Bray sat for three years as chairman atop the Atlanta Regional Commission, which determines where much of the transportation money is spent.
"Bray is recognized all across this state as the epitome of a county commission chairman," Taylor said. "Our state owes you a great debt of gratitude ... Clayton County has left the launchpad. That rocket ship was built by great public servants like Crandle Bray and Gerald Matthews."
Sen. Terrell Starr also endowed the two with praise.
But the glaze of compliments ended when Griswell stepped up to the podium, as he jokingly talked about the trio's various disagreements and political impasses over the years.
The anecdotes gave some insight to the relationship of the trio and some of the contention that occurred behind closed doors on issues like the construction of the new Harold R. Banke Justice Center.
Griswell told how he met the two back in the '70s and '80s when he was county commission chairman.
In 1972, he said he convinced Matthews to support his campaign as Matthews cut down a tree. He hired Bray in 1982 as his chief administrator for the county.
"These boys have made out a lot better knowing me," Griswell said.
Bray followed Griswell at the podium and thanked the crowd of supporters and gave them a glimpse into the way he has made decisions the last 12 years, noting some of them required him to have a police escort to his car.
"I made the decision that I thought was the right one and I'd suffer the consequences," he said.
Matthews ended the ceremony recounting good and bad times as a commissioner, but put some finality to his and Bray's political career in Clayton County.
"We have done all that we can," he said. "Let those who can, do better."