0

Clayton public servants in Georgia's '40 Under 40'

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Two of Clayton County's own have been included among a group awarded the destinction of being 40 of the brightest, most successful movers and shakers in the state of Georgia.

Clayton County District 3 Commissioner Wole Ralph, as well as Superior and State Court Administrator Will Simmons, were honored in Georgia Trend Magazine's 2007 "40 Under 40" tribute to some of Georgia's most influential leaders in the fields of communications, law, non-profit work, and business. All are under the age of 40.

The list also includes: Jovita Moore, an anchorwoman and reporter with Channel 2 Action News in Atlanta; Laura Mathis, director of public administration for the Middle Georgia Regional Development Center in Macon; William A. Taylor, Jr., founder of one of the few minority-owned CPA firms in the Columbus area, and Brian Brodrick, a partner at Jackson Spalding communications firm in Watkinsville, Ga.

All 40 honorees will be recognized during a private ceremony at the Fox Theater in downtown Atlanta on Oct. 16.

Simmons, who has worked as a liaison with Superior and State Courts, the Board of Commissioners, and other court-related agencies for nearly three years, said he was surprised and pleased to find out he had been nominated for the award. "I was humbled that someone thought enough of me to think that I deserved this type of recognition," he said.

At 32 years of age, Simmons said he has a lot of responsibility. In addition to running the day-to-day business of the court, he oversees the DUI Court, the alternative dispute resolution program, the law libraries, bailiffs and several human resources personnel.

"You have to know a lot about everything," he said. "I feel very fortunate to be appointed by the judges and the state court ... to be trusted by the judges to handle the daily affairs of the court."

The South Carolina native and Savannah State University graduate said he enjoys his job, because of the new programs he has been able to create, such as the court's Public Education Outreach Initiative. In the program, schools, churches and civic organizations can arrange tours of the court by filling out a form on the court's web site.

Simmons said that the program is especially beneficial for school children, who often feel pressure from their peers. "In most cases, I try to get them in front of a judge to ask questions," he said. "A lot of them don't understand the consequences of making bad decisions. They get that reality check by seeing an inmate in custody going through the court system. It hits home more than a classroom lesson would."

While many Clayton residents know him as their District 3 commissioner, Ralph, 28, spends the majority of his time working as the Georgia director of ACCION-USA, the largest non-profit, micro-lending organization in the nation.

As the Georgia program director, Ralph manages the largest micro lender in the state, helping small companies and start-ups -- many of which would be denied loans by larger banks -- receive low-interest, government loans needed to expand their businesses.

"Access to capital is the most prophetic issue for a small business," said Ralph. "Banks only lend to people who meet their underwritten guidelines. The people we lend to are the mom-and-pops, the street vendors, the people who are moving into their first commercial space. Many times, these people would be forced to go to predatory forms of lending."

Ralph graduated from Morris Brown College in 1999, with degrees in political science and accounting. While in school, he was the college's student government association president and became director of alumni affairs. In 2001, he received a master's degree in public administration from Northern Illinois University, and worked for the Georgia State Inspector General in Atlanta before he was elected as a Clayton County Commissioner.

Ralph said a strict upbringing from his parents, both immigrants from Guyana, South America, influenced his decision to go into politics. "They always valued service to the country as very important, so they raised us with that view," he said.

Ralph said the fact that two of Clayton County's youngest government officials are being recognized is a sign of the power that young leadership can have in the county. "It's an exciting time for Clayton County," he said. "It makes a powerful statement about where the county can go. I hope it will galvanize and help people recognize the things happening in Clayton County, and move more young people into being involved in the county."