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Commissioners take stock of the past year

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Last year was a busy one for the Clayton County Board of Commissioners, full of accomplishments and setbacks.

The BOC took a $6.5 million hit in August when the county settled a long-standing lawsuit between Sheriff Victor Hill and 27 former sheriff deputies who were fired when Hill took office in January of 2005.

However, the commissioners were able to accomplish several goals this year, including opening two new creations centers -- the Carl G. Rhodenizer Center in Rex, and the Virginia Burton Gray Recreation Center in Riverdale -- bringing much needed recreational activities to those areas. The county also broke ground on the Ellenwood Project -- which includes the Villages of Ellenwood subdivision, the Ellenwood Town Center, and a new 184,000 square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter.

It also laid out plans for a comprehensive transportation study, and set the ground work for a major redevelopment of the Mountain View area.

As the year came to a close, the commissioners took stock of the biggest challenges presented to them in 2007; their most significant accomplishments; what could have been done better, and what they wish to accomplish in 2008.

District 1 Commissioner Sonna Singleton, one of the newest members on the board, said her biggest challenges were following in the footsteps of her predecessor, Carl G. Rhodenizer, and balancing the concerns of 70,000 residents with the life of a single mother.

"[Rhodenizer] was well-known and well-liked by many in this district for the manner in which he responded to their issues and concerns," said Singleton. She said she wants to "build upon his legacy" by enhancing the services provided in District 1.

While ultimately voted down by the BOC, Singleton said she was proud of fighting for a resolution to grant two district aides to the four commissioners, something she believes would have greatly improved constituent services on a district level. She was also proud of being instrumental in the development and opening of the Carl G. Rhodenizer Recreation Center, the Ellenwood Project, and the construction of a new fire station in District 1.

Singleton said that for the BOC to accomplish all of its goals in 2008, however, the board "is going to have to work together to develop a collective vision and an agreed-upon strategy."

District 2 Commissioner Virginia Gray, the longest-serving commissioner on the board, said she was "disappointed" that the board was not "moving forward with the pace to which I am accustomed." She said she is optimistic about the new year, however. She listed the creation of the recreation centers in Rex and Riverdale and the expansion the Festival of Lights and Trees at Clayton County International Park as a significant accomplishments.

Gray said that economic development is a "critical element of progress in Clayton County" and that the county needs to take better advantage of its proximity to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to attract new businesses. She said she is currently pursing a Tax Allocation District (TAD) project to improve the northwest corridor of the county, particularly the Cherry Hills subdivision.

"We are not capitalizing on the possibilities generated by this major economic engine," said Gray. The commissioner added that in order for the county to move forward, citizens would need to show "more interest" and "less criticism" of the county's youth.

"We have three new recreation centers, but our volunteer pool is deplorable," said Gray. "I hope to see more programs in the centers for our at-risk youth."

District 3 Commissioner Wole Ralph said that while nearing completion, the rewriting of the county's zoning and land-use ordinances is a major accomplishment, and would ultimately slow the "proliferation of low quality, low-value housing throughout the county."

Ralph said that one of his greatest challenges as a commissioner has been "opening government to the public" by helping make the BOC and citizens more aware of, and responsive to, each other. He cited the Clayton County Wide Homeowners Association for greatly improving citizen involvement throughout the county.

"Clayton County has historically been a closed government system with little opportunity for citizen input and involvement," said Ralph. He said that since taking office, he has stressed citizen outreach in all of the projects the county has undertaken, and that there have been "tremendous opportunities" as a result.

Ralph hoped that in 2008 the county would create more workshops, activities, and citizen groups to draw input from the citizens.

District 4 Commissioner Michael Edmondson, who just served his first year as commissioner, said that while he has often been the "no" vote in many meetings, he was proud of the initiatives he has supported, such as the expansion of Code Enforcement, the creation of the Information Technology Department, and efforts to create a code of ethics and parliamentary procedures for Clayton County.

"During my campaign, I promised to improve property values and clean up Clayton County," said Edmondson. "While there continues to be much work to do, the reorganization of code enforcement into our police department was a huge success, and has been very popular with residents."

He explained that, currently, the county does not have a formal budget process and "will benefit from an overhaul of its financial technology and finance department." Edmondson said that local grant allocations, departmental staff needs, and the need for additional grass-cutting crews were ignored due to "our lack of an adequate budget process."

Edmondson added that in 2008 he is looking forward to the completion of the county's new zoning ordinances, more green-space initiatives, and the redevelopment of Tara Field as an economic generator for the county.

Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell was ill while this story was being reported and could not be reached for his coments.