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Candidates square off at forum

By Ed Brock

Wayne Madden hobbled to the microphone on one crutch and demanded an answer from the candidates for the Clayton County Board of Commissioners.

He wanted to know what could be done about making sure the county hires more minority-owned businesses.

"What's your stance on making this thing right?" Madden asked.

Eight of the 11 candidates for the board attended the forum Wednesday night where Madden, who lives in south Clayton County, asked his question. About 50 people turned out for the forum that was sponsored by the Grassroots Link and held at the Clayton County Schools Performing Arts Center in Morrow.

All of the candidates for chairman of the commission, Democrats Eldrin Bell, Terry Bizell and Wade Starr Jr., and the race's only Republican, Michael Onyemenam, came to the forum.

Commission District 2 challenger Danny Hayes came to the event, as did District 3 candidates Charles Davis, Cedric McCrary and Wole Ralph.

Most of them stressed common themes, the need for more but controlled economic development in the county, better education and increased law enforcement.

Madden's question brought a list of responses from the candidates, all of whom are black.

Davis said an office of contractor planning should be formed to ensure minority participation and McCrary mentioned creating a committee for minority-owned businesses that could draw ideas from neighboring counties.

Starr, currently an administrative assistant for outgoing county commission Chairman Crandle Bray, said the problem is due in no small part to the county's reputation.

"I don't think it's a big secret that this has not been the place where minority-owned businesses can come in and feel like they'll be treated fairly," Starr said.

At the same time, Starr said the absence of minority businesses in the awarding of county construction contracts isn't necessarily a sign of discrimination. He cited a recent contract from the county on which no minority businesses made bids, and he said the county needs to find other ways of encouraging participation in the bidding process.

Onyemenam recommended more advertising of bids in local papers. Bell said the county should form a mentor-prot?g? project to help small businesses get involved in the bidding process, and Bizzell also recommended educating small businesses on qualifying for the process.

Jeffery Benoit of Rex wanted to know what the candidates would do about providing more code enforcement in the county.

Bizzell said he would like to establish an environmental court to give the county's code enforcement officers more power. Bell said the system for administering the code enforcement had to be streamlined.

Ralph said the county should provide a system for members of the community to report possible code violations via a Web site and McCrary said the county needs "community task forces" in which specific communities deputize a code enforcement officer.

Starr said the code had to be strengthened in the first place to assure that quality homes are built in the county.

The incumbent for District 2, Virginia Gray, did not attend the forum. Other candidates for District 3 who did not attend are Zannie "Tiger" Billingslea and Ronald Ringer.

District 3 incumbent Commissioner Gerald Matthews is not running for re-election.

The Grassroots Link invited all the candidates to participate in the forum.

On July 10 The Grassroots Link will sponsor a one-on-one meeting between the candidates in all the local races and the public that will be held at Sparkles Skating Rink on Ga. Highway 85 in Riverdale.

The primary elections will be July 20.