By Ed Brock
Ushering in a new era for Clayton County, three new leaders took their oaths of office in a ceremony that stressed one theme, unity.
Clayton County Board of Commissioners incoming Chairman Eldrin Bell, incumbent Commissioner Virginia Gray and freshman Commissioner Wole Ralph, surrounded by family and friends, took their oaths from Georgia Supreme Court Justice Robert Benham at the Clayton County Performing Arts Center in Jonesboro on Thursday night. Each one spoke of the need to work together for the future of the county.
More specifically, they told the audience of some 500 people that they would seek economic growth, stronger public safety and clean neighborhoods.
Gray was the first to take her oath. She attributed her love of service to her upbringing and the influence of her grandmother, who spent her life in public service.
"Each time I'm sworn in it becomes more humbling," Gray said. "Service to me is, just like as the song says, 'fire shut up in my bones.'"
The commissioners had committed to work together for the people, Gray said, and she hoped the people would share that commitment.
After taking his oath Ralph asked his wife to present a bouquet to his mother. Then he gave a speech that would bring the crowd to its feet, in which he specifically voiced his opposition to the previous commission's decision earlier this month to move the Crime Scene Investigation Unit from the Clayton County Sheriff's Office to the county's police department, saying the commission should not make decisions based on "petty politics."
He also urged the people to act together to prevent Clayton from becoming "a county of strangers."
"We are beginning to act, and act today, because we are a county of believers," Ralph said.
Before giving the oath to his longtime friend Bell, Benham praised Bell as "a man of phenomenal accomplishments" and "proven talents."
"He embodies what this ceremony is all about and what these oaths have been about today," Benham said.
Bell said Ralph and Gray had already said most of what he wanted to say.
"But I embrace what they just said because the magic word of what they just said is making this journey together," Bell said.
He noted that the title of the written message he had included in the program for the ceremony was "A Vision Together." In that statement he lists the programs that must be implemented for the county to grow, including generating more jobs, managing growth and providing quality programs for seniors.
"It's a big job, make no mistake about it, but together there is no task we cannot handle," Bell wrote.