By Billy Corriher
On the last day for Clayton County candidates to qualify for the July 20 primary election, incumbent Chairwoman Nedra Ware filed to run for reelection to the county Board of Education, but board member Linda Crummy did not qualify to defend her seat. Ware also picked up two opponents.
One resident who was outspoken against the school board during last year's controversy, Lois Hunter, filed Friday to run for Ware's seat.
Hunter said the controversy influenced her decision to run.
"We need to bring the school system up to par and make the changes that need to be made," she said.
Hunter said she had two kids go through Clayton County schools, including her daughter, a special needs student who is now working toward her Master's degree.
"I understand what it takes to educate children just by raising my daughter," she said.
Roosevelt Bailey has also qualified to run against Ware.
A candidate that ran against board member Barbara Wells four years ago, Noreece Haynes, has filed to run for Well's seat again.
Though he received more votes than Wells, Haynes was disqualified from the last race because of delays in switching over his voter registration. Haynes, an employee of the Metro Association of Classroom Educators, said he is running again because he thinks the school board needs a change.
"Keeping Barbara Wells in office is like playing Russian Roulette," he said.
Haynes, who has been a mentor to local youth, said he wants to "safeguard" accreditation for the school system, and he would like the system to offer more vocational classes and be more accommodating for special needs students.
"We have a lot of handicapped kids, and some schools have areas that aren't accessible to those students," he said.
Cobb County teacher Jermaine Dawson and Pastor Wendell Rod Johnson are also running for Wells' seat.
A new candidate emerged on Friday to run for Crummy's seat, bringing the total to four seeking the open seat. Crummy could not be reached for comment on why she is not seeking reelection.
Former Riverdale mayoral candidate Kelley Jackson filed on Friday.
After all the controversy surrounding the school board this year, Jackson said she wants to improve the school system and ensure that it's accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
"We can rehabilitate the school board and get people in there who want to start with a clean slate," she said.
In addition to concern about the effect on local property values, Jackson said the school board's recent problems also worry her as the parent of an incoming kindergarten student.
"My daughter will be entering the school system, and her future depends on the Clayton County school system," she said. "What's going on with the school board is of paramount importance to me."
Riverdale resident Michelle Jackson has also filed to run for the seat left open by Crummy.
"If the current school board members were really concerned about the students in Clayton County, they would have paid attention to the trends in our school system," she said, mentioning escalating dropout rates and school violence. "I think it's time for the school board to get serious about educating our children."
Jackson said some of the current board members have another agenda, and she said new superintendent Barbara Pulliam "needs a competent school board to work with."
Yolanda Everett and Cedric McCrary have filed to run for the seat being vacated by Crummy.
Running against incumbent board member Carol Kellam in the Democratic Primary will be Lake City resident Devadas Lynton and David Ashe.
Democrats Janice Scott and Eddie White have filed to run for seat being vacated by board member Bob Livingston. On Friday, Republican Joel Dixon also filed to run for the seat.
Judges face competition
Jonesboro Attorney Robert Mack has filed to run against Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield. Mack, who has practiced law in Clayton County since 1997, said he would administer his judicial duties with "care, dedication, and fairness."
"My courtroom philosophy is to provide a fair playing field, and as judge, I will conduct the courtroom with decorum and professionalism, and treat each and every individual with dignity and respect," he said.
Mack said he knows state and federal law, and his experience as an attorney makes him qualified to be judge.
Mack said his goal is "to serve the citizens of Clayton County with dignity, respect, dedication and fairness, while providing excellence in my judicial duties through capable and fair administration of all Superior Court proceedings."
Deborah Benefield said her experience from almost 12 years as Superior Court Judge is "critically important" because her role wields so much power.
"I believe I have built on my experience every day for 12 years," she said. "During that period of time, I've been responsible for many innovations on the bench that make it more efficient and fairer for all the parties involved."
Deborah Benefield said she hasn't faced competition for her seat since her first election, and she feels her record as a judge and local attorney demonstrate her commitment.
"In every job that I've held, I feel like I've been fair to all the citizens here as an attorney or as a judge," she said.
State Court Judge Harold Benefield has filed to defend his seat from challenger Coatsey Ellison, who ran for Superior Court Judge two years ago.
Harold Benefield said that in his 22 years on the bench, he has worked hard to protect the rights of victims and the accused in his courtroom.
"I've been preparing for this race every day for the last 22 years by treating each person who comes before me with the same kind of care of concern that I would want for my parents, wife, or children under the same circumstances," he said. "No judge anywhere has done more to combat the real causes of crime, alcohol and drug abuse and mental and emotional illness."
Former candidate files to run for chairman
Former candidate Terry Bizzell filed on Friday to run again for Chairman of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners. Bizzell said his platform would include ensuring the county's quality of life, stronger code enforcement and addressing residents' concerns with dense development.
"There's a lot of what I would consider inappropriate zoning going on," he said.
Bizzell, a candidate in 1996 and 2000, said he would also like to see the county develop more recreation and tutorial programs for youth. Through his job as Fulton County court docket supervisor, Bizzell said he routinely sees young people in jail, a problem that he said could be addressed with more after-school and summer programs.
"We need to help these children before they get in trouble," he said. "We need to be proactive so we don't have these young men being incarcerated."
With the budget cuts the school system is facing, Bizzell said he'd also like to see the county work more closely with the school board.
And if the county can help bolster the school system, Bizzell said it would be easier for the county to attract businesses for economic development.
"The quality of life in a community is inextricably linked to the quality of education their children are receiving," he said.
Former Atlanta Police Chief Eldrin Bell and Wade Starr, administrative assistant to the current chairman, are also running for chairman.
Republican Michael Onyemenam also filed on Friday to run for chairman.
Race for Hill's seat draws another candidate
Community activist Roberta Abdul-Salaam filed on Friday to run for the state House of Representatives seat being vacated by Rep. Victor Hill, a candidate for county sheriff.
Abdul-Salaam said she wanted to join the crowded field vying for Hill's seat because she was concerned about funding for health care and education, and she was wanted to help create jobs in the area.
"Being an advocate all my life, I realize that laws are what really what affect people," she said.
Abdul-Salaam said that she wants to be an effective voice for the people in her district.
"A lot of people don't feel like they have a voice," she said.
Also competing for Hill's seat are local principal George Jeburk, attorney Johnny Castaneda, Riverdale resident John Jones and Fayetteville attorney Emory Wilkerson.
Matthews' vacant seat draws another candidate
Zannie "Tiger" Billingslea has filed to run for the seat being left open by Clayton County Commissioner Gerald Matthews, who isn't seeking reelection.
Wole Ralph, Charles Davis, Cedric McCrary, and Ronald Ringer have also filed to seek Matthews' seat.
Community activist Lee Scott, who had considered running for county commission, said Friday that he would not seek office and instead concentrate on working to elect candidate who are "responsive to the needs of the residential and business community."
"Clayton County is uniquely positioned to lead the metro area in positively responding to its citizens' calls and demands for their elected leaders to govern and lead in a spirit of justice, fairness and unity," he said. "I look forward to playing a continuing role in the growth of Clayton County, the development of our young people and the creation of an atmosphere and spirit of unity among all of the residents."
Incumbents file to defend seats
Incumbent Sheriff Stanley Tuggle, a Democrat, will face opposition in the July 20 Democratic primary from county detective Victor Hill, county investigator Joe Mack Eckler, and used car salesman Cliff Hall. No Republican filed.
Probate Judge Pam Ferguson has filed to defend her seat against challenger Bobby Simmons in the Democratic Primary.
Democrat Gloria Reed will run for the Chief Magistrate Judge's seat, which is being vacated by incumbent Mike Baird. Superior Court Judge Matthew Simmons, a Democrat, has filed to defend his seat but has no competition.
Incumbent County Solicitor Keith Martin has filed to defend his seat against challenger Leslie Miller-Terry in the Democratic Primary.
Linda Miller, incumbent Democratic Clerk of Superior Court, did not have any challengers file to run against her.
Incumbent County Commissioner Virginia Gray will face off with high school counselor Danny Hayes in the July 20 Democratic Primary.
Local attorneys Jewel Scott and Michael King have qualified to challenge incumbent District Attorney Bob Keller in the Democratic Primary.
Incumbent state representatives Ron Dodson, Mike Barnes, Gail Buckner, and Darryl Jordan, all Democrats, did not have any candidates qualify to challenge them. State Sen. Terrell Starr, D-Jonesboro, did not have any challengers file, but Sen. Valencia Seay, D-College Park, filed to defend her seat against Fayetteville Republican Edith Mullin.
U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, filed to defend his seat against Democratic challenger William Ogletree of Duluth. There is no Republican challenger.