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Commission candidates concerned about schools, growth

By Greg Gelpi

District 2

Although incumbent Virginia Gray has served as Clayton County District 2 commissioner for eight years, challenger Danny Hayes is questioning her record.

The two Democratic candidates for the county commission seat will face off during Tuesday's primary election. There is no Republican candidate.

"I've been going around in the district and the people didn't even know the name of their commissioner," Hayes said. "People know very well who Danny Hayes is, and they will continue to know Danny Hayes if I'm elected."

Her experience and years in office aren't apparent in the district, he said.

"I've been working sun up to sundown (campaigning)," Hayes said. "I will be the next Clayton County commissioner for District 2."

He criticized Gray for not accepting the county's attempt to award 15 percent of its contracts to minority-owned businesses. The 15 percent, while nowhere near the level it should be in a primarily black county, is a starting point, he said.

"She has never taken a stand, and never will take a stand," Hayes said.

He is interested in connecting the county with those in the county.

"We need more outreach programs," he said. "We have great resources here."

The businesses in Clayton County don't do business with Clayton County, Hayes said.

By first educating the people of the county, county government can award more minority contracts.

"If you don't know how, then how can you bid, ?" Hayes said.

Although he hasn't been an elected county official before, Hayes said he has been active in county politics, fighting against landfills and zoning issues.

"We need controlled growth and growth with vision," said Hayes, who hopes to be a "voice and a watcher" for his district.

In order to have controlled growth, everyone must be brought to the table, he said. The county and the Clayton County Board of Education should meet monthly to discuss growth and planned developments.

"Right now, we're not working as a team," Hayes said.

Gray couldn't be reached for comment.

District 3

Growth, dealing with growth and involving minorities in this growth top a list of concerns for Clayton County Board of Commissioners District 3 candidates.

The decision by Gerald Matthews not to seek re-election has opened the door for five newcomers to vie for the open seat.

Voters will consider between Zannie "Tiger" Billingslea, Charles Davis, Cedric McCrary, Wole Ralph and Ronald Ringer during Tuesday's primary election.

There are no Republicans running for the position, so barring any write-in effort in November, the winner is assured the seat.

"We have to redevelop (the northern) area of the county, while the southern part is growing," Ralph, 26, said. "I think we're doing a poor job of managing the growth of the county right now."

Rather than attracting pawnshops, liquor stores and spas, the county should be attracting businesses that require skilled labor, he said. Redevelopment should include "high value, high quality" housing as well.

As a former supervisory management analyst for the U.S. Department of Labor, Ralph said he flew around the country studying various counties, seeing what works and what doesn't work.

"I really thought it was my responsibility to bring my tangible skills to the table of my county," he said.

With the complex issues facing the county, a commissioner should have a "short learning curve," Ralph said of the importance of his experience. "They're not just something to list."

Going door to door, he has received positive responses from the people of his district, he said.

"We've been getting out and knocking on 3,300 doors," Ralph said. "They're really excited about the leadership positions I've held."

McCrary is campaigning on a platform to prevent problems before they become problems. To curb gang activity and other youth violence, the county must provide more youth activities.

"A lot of people don't consider it a strong enough issue until tragedy strikes," McCrary said.

The Clayton County school system is "lacking greatly" and needs help with after school programs. The system also needs help dealing with the booming growth of the county.

The first step to resolving these issues is to restore communication between the county and the school system.

"I definitely look forward to meeting and finding out what we can do to resolve their problems," McCrary said.

The outreach should extend beyond government entities and into faith-based organizations, said the founder and president of No Greater Love Crusade Ministries and evangelist.

His churches have tutoring programs, but few children show up, McCrary said. With the help of the county, programs for youth can reach more people.

The county has been "playing catch up" with the growth of the county, he said.

"We're far overbalanced in our development now," McCrary said, explaining that there are too many low-income residences and not enough higher-income places.

Davis said that it's time for a change. Going into the community and speaking with residents, that is what they want.

"People are responding really well," Davis said. "I think we have a good chance of winning."

Through service on the county commission, he wants to improve the school system, he said. Working with zoning, code enforcement and other county departments, he would address concerns of the system's accreditation, which had been in jeopardy, and the growing number of trailers serving as temporary classrooms.

Davis wants to pass an ordinance to maintain and increase green space in the county.

"Our county is growing faster than most counties," Davis said. "Our land in Clayton County is about to run out."

High density housing, where houses are within feet of each other, needs to be replaced with development that incorporates more green space, as is done in the panhandle of the county, he said.

Minorities should benefit from the growth of the county, Davis said. The county has made efforts to award more contracts to minority-owned businesses. Although the county is primarily black, he said he would like to have at least 5 percent to 10 percent of the contracts go to minority-owned companies.

"That is a very very serious issue," Davis said.

To ensure this is done, Davis supports establishing an "office of contract compliance" to monitor the county's contracts.

Billingslea and Ringer couldn't be reached for comment, but Ringer responded to a News Daily survey.

He said that the county needs to maintain quality of life through "controlled, quality" growth.

"Our citizens deserve no less than the best," Ringer said. "High density housing throughout the county has forced our children out of the school buildings and into trailers."

Growth must slow down, he said.

Matthews has served as commissioner of the district since 1993. He also served from 1985 to 1988.

The primary election will be held Tuesday.