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Commission changeover goes public at charity

By Justin Boron

On the verge of a major political transition, the door is swinging both ways in Clayton County.

Just days after outgoing County Commission Chairman Crandle Bray's going away ceremony, Chairman-elect Eldrin Bell appeared, with his future commission members, for the first time publicly as the county's leader.

"Welcome to Clayton County," he said, hosting a massive holiday charity dinner for an estimated 1,500 supporters at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park.

The event was an occasion for holiday giving, as well as Bell's public emergence to the front of Clayton politics while the current commission leadership bows out.

Three weeks remain until Bell officially takes the reigns of a government born of the demographic transformation reflective of the county's majority black population.

While Bray still has two commission meetings left after today, much of the power appears to have already shifted into Bell's hands.

Last week, Bray said he would not proceed on the contentious transfers of the crime scene investigation and narcotics units from the Sherriff's Department without Bell's blessing. In the past, Bray has taken guidance from the former Atlanta Police Department chief on other occasions, such as during negotiations for the joint-ownership agreement with Henry County for Tara Field.

The charity also exemplified Bell's efforts to develop working relationships with the remaining commissioners Virginia Gray, Carl Rhodenizer, and Charlie Griswell.

During his time at the microphone, Bell said he and Gray had collaborated to organize the event. Later, Gray mirrored Bell's sentiments of an auspicious partnership.

"This is the beginning of what is going to be one of the best teams in the state," she said.

A zealous Bell also characterized his future partners in government as "a caring commission."

"This will be a commission that cares for all of its people, particularly our children and seniors," he said.

One of the beneficiaries of Sunday's charity event was the Rainbow House, which cares for abused children.

Since its facilities were damaged in a recent fire, the organization has been in a desperate financial situation, Bell said.

He told the crowd that Rainbow House still needed $80,000 to recover from its loss, but that he was confident that the organization could overcome its strife with the community's help.

"We are going to rebuild the Rainbow House because it takes care of our children," he said.

Guests each donated a toy as a payment for their entry.

Pat and Stan Ruth, personal friends of Bell, watched as various speakers praised Bell for his efforts.

"It's a good organization for kids . . . just getting into the spirit of the season," Stan Ruth said, in between songs by the Jonesboro Children's Choir of Andrews Chapel Methodist Church.

The Male Chorus for the Red Oak United Methodist Church, Ashley Lewis of the Harvest Baptist Church, Fired Up Teens of the Divine Faith Ministries, and Ali Ramsaier also performed at the event.