By Joel Hall
With four months to go until the deadline to qualify for the race for chairman of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners, two challengers to Eldrin Bell have filed their intent to receive campaign contributions.
Michael Onyemenam, the owner of a limosine service who challenged Bell in 2004, and Earl Randall, who, until his termination on Dec. 21, worked as chief of staff for the Clayton County District Attorney's Office.
Randall, who is said to be pursuing legal action against the District Attorney's office, said District Attorney Jewel Scott fired him after learning he was running for chairman.
Randall's lawyer, Bill Atkins, insists that Lee Scott -- Jewel Scott's husband, who ran unsuccessfully against District 4 Commissioner Michael Edmondson in 2006 -- plans to run for chairman this year, and pressured his wife to fire Randall.
"She was very supportive initially," said Atkins, because Jewell Scott would have had "an ally" on the commission. "It was only when she learned from her husband that he was planning to run for the position that she put pressure on [Randall] to drop out of the race," he charged.
In an earlier news report, District Attorney Scott said Randall was campaigning while on the job, and that action alone was enough to cause his dismissal. However, Atkins argued Randall had never passed out any campaign materials, nor solicited funds while at work.
"It was a mailer," said Atkins. "[Scott] received it in the mail with a number of other people. He wasn't passing out anything at work ... that would have been inappropriate. He mailed one to her out of courtesy, because she was his boss.
"You can't retaliate against a person for engaging in political activity, because you disagree with that political activity. If he was running for District Attorney, that might be a different question, but obviously, he's not doing that."
When questioned by the Clayton News Daily on Tuesday, Scott refused to comment. Her husband did not return several calls. But, as of Jan. 8, he had not filed an intent form to receive campaign funds with the board of elections.
While Randall referred all comments regarding his termination to his attorney, he spoke freely about his platform for chairman, which includes addressing crime, finding alternative ways to generate county revenue, lowering taxes, and responding to the needs of citizens.
Randall said an ongoing power struggle between Bell and Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill has resulted in a lack of quality services for citizens.
"The chairman is more concerned about bickering with the sheriff and dealing with those personal issues than dealing the quality of life for the citizens," Randall said.
Meanwhile, Onyemenam is renewing his platform of making a Clayton "A county of love," according to his campaign manager, Grams Osborn. "We are looking for a united Clayton County, with better hopes for everyone," said Osborn. "We want a situation where people will come to the county and love their neighbors, not where they have to stay in their houses because they hear gunshots. That starts from top to bottom."
Like Randall, the Onyemenam camp placed the blame for many of the county's problems on the disagreements between Bell and Hill. "We want to bring a better harmony between our police and sheriff departments," said Osborn. "We want to correct what Mr. Hill and Mr. Bell have failed to do."
Bell, who was confident he will maintain his position as chairman, said his relationship with Hill has been highly "exaggerated" for political gain. "My actions, in regard to the Victor Hill situation, are the actions of the board, not Eldrin Bell," said the chairman. "Each time action has been taken, it has been the action of the board.
"The question you would have to raise to other candidates is what would you do in that situation, when others were illegally fired?"asked Bell, in reference to the county's $6.5 million legal settlement with 27 sheriff's deputies fired by Hill when he first took office.
"What would they do in a situation that cost the taxpayers that kind of money? Had I not urged the board to take the action ... the cost would have been tripled."
Bell, who served for 33 years in the Atlanta Police Department and for four years as its chief of police, argued that the county "has been quite effective" in dealing with crimes in terms of arrests. He said community-oriented policing strategies taken on by the Clayton County Police Department have contributed to an overall decrease in crime.