By Joel Hall
While never having held an elected position, Jerry Griffin, a resident of Clayton County for 40 years, has had a major influence on policies impacting his Southern Crescent county, for as long as he has lived here.
For two decades, Griffin has served as the executive director of Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG). Georgia Trend Magazine has named him as one of Georgia's most influential people of 2008.
Achieving his undergraduate and master's degree in public administration from the University of Georgia, Griffin spent 13 years working for the Georgia Municipal Association, achieving the title of assistant director.
Afterward, he spent two years handling legislative affairs for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. He then spent the next two years as the first executive director of the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority, before assuming the title of the ACCG's executive director.
Formed in 1919, the ACCG was originally started to help counties with transportation issues, and building roads. The organization has since expanded, bringing together business leaders and county governments to come to a consensus and solve problems and work with legislators to influence changes in state law that positively impact counties.
"The elected official can't do it alone," said Griffin, 63. "You have to have coalitions of support behind them, so we participate in that kind of effort."
The ACCG serves as a vital resource for county governments. In addition to insuring 139 Georgia counties for worker's compensation and 118 counties for property and casual liability, the ACCG does something much more important -- it teaches clerks, public works directors, finance officers, and commissioners how to do their jobs better.
In partnership with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia, the ACCG offers certification training for county employees in leadership positions, providing course work in finance, liability, open records laws, and how to properly conduct meetings.
"We try to teach how, not only to do the job, but why," said Griffin. "Why is it important that we have transparency? All of this is designed so that these elected officials understand the complex issues that they have jumped into. There's not a silver bullet to most of the problems we have today."
In addition to helping train county leaders, the ACCG works as a mediator between governments and local stakeholders to come to mutually beneficial solutions to regional problems.
As of late, the ACCG has been focused on addressing water conservation, transportation issues, and keeping financially troubled Grady Memorial Hospital from closing.
"One of the things that I think we all agree on is the impact on economic growth and economic prosperity," said Griffin. "If industry stops locating here because of congestion, then we are going to have some problems for sure.
"We get 52 inches average of rain a year," Griffin continued. "What can we do to capture more of that? Nobody is arguing for dirty air ... the issue is how do we get the ball rolling to address that? We have a lot of challenges, but we still have some tremendous opportunities."