Stall expected for bill to enlarge commission

By Justin Boron

A bill to put two more seats on the Clayton County Board of Commissioners will stay in the Legislature while a study during the next year determines if and where the additions are needed, said a long-standing state legislator in the county.

Because the bill introduced by freshman Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam, D-Riverdale, blind sided local leaders and several members of the legislative delegation, it will have to wait until next year to get approval, said Sen. Terrell Starr, D-Jonesboro.

"It just came out of the blue," he said. "It came up too late without input from anybody."

Abdul-Salaam said she introduced the bill to broaden the citizens' voice on its main governing body.

The bill would have created two at-large super districts, where commissioners would be elected by the entire county.

Most of the local lawmakers wouldn't sign the legislation because it didn't go through the appropriate channels and could cost the county more money at a time of financial uncertainty, said Rep. Gail Buckner, D-Jonesboro.

County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell, who opposed the bill, estimated the cost of two extra seats to be near $500,000 in salaries and administrative costs.

Although considered by much of the local delegation to be ill-conceived, legislators admitted there may be a need for extra representation.

Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale, said with all the growth in the 240,000-person county, the two extra seats may make the county commission more accountable.

County Commissioner Wole Ralph said the move to expand the board may have grown out of public dissatisfaction.

"It's representative of the frustration that people feel about the commission right now," he said. "They don't feel the commission is currently reflecting the values of the public."