By Joel Hall
While county primary elections are not scheduled to take place until July 15, the number of challengers running for chairman, District 2, and District 3 seats on the board of commissioners is steadily increasing.
Today, Angela Redding, a management analyst for the City of Forest Park, will kick off her campaign for District 3 Commissioner at Boston's Restaurant at 2180 Mt. Zion Parkway in Morrow.
Her entry into the race brings the number of candidates challenging incumbent Commissioner Wole Ralph to three.
Those challengers include Community Impact Center, Inc., Director William Hill and Shegale Crute, a strategic planning consultant, AirTran flight attendant, and community activist. Ralph and Crute, formerly, husband and wife, and had been involved in divorce proceedings, recently settled that case, according to Crute. That is why she will be campaigning under her maiden name.
The race for chairman has gotten crowded as well. As of this week, five challengers have publicly announced plans to run against Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell. They include Lee Scott, a Jonesboro developer, who ran unsuccessfully against District 4 Commissioner Michael Edmondson in the 2006 primary.
Another challenger, Earl Randall, a former chief of staff in the Clayton County District Attorney's Office, has alleged that District Attorney Jewel Scott fired him after learning that he planned to run for the same position as her husband, Lee Scott. District Attorney Scott, however, has said that Randall was fired for campaigning while on the job.
Other challengers seeking to unseat Bell include Michael Onyemenam, who ran unsuccessfully against Bell in 2004; Reginald Wade, an adjunct professor and youth pastor from Jonesboro; and Emory J. Clark, II, a stay-at-home father from Forest Park.
So far, the only challenger facing District 2 Commissioner Virginia Gray -- the senior-most member of the BOC -- is Lawrence Ethridge, II. Ethridge has served as a major with the Clayton County Sheriff's Department since 1993.
Redding, who said she will run in District 3 as a non-partisan candidate, has worked for the City of Forest Park for nine years. As a management analyst for Forest Park, Redding has handled economic planning and grant administration for major redevelopment projects, such as the State Farmer's Market, Fort Gillem, and the Main Street project.
While running for an elected office for the first time, Redding said she is well-equipped for the job of commissioner. If elected, she wants to focus on economic development and increasing property values.
"We need to have standards in place, so when developers are looking to build, we already have in place what we want, instead of letting the developer dictate what is built," said Redding. "Everybody should be working together ... to attract the kind of development we want. I'm the kind of person who can build bridges to cross that gap."
Hill, an associate minister at New Birth South Metropolitan Church in Jonesboro, is currently the only Republican in the District 3 race. Hill said that he wants to give the citizens of Clayton "a fresh start and a new beginning."
"The current makeup of the board has spent too much time in quagmire and dealing with minor issues," said Hill. "We need to unite the county ... regardless of creed, color, economic or education status." He said that uniting the county and working more closely with other counties in the Southern Crescent would boost the economy.
Hill said he wants to improve the communication between the county and its citizens, as well as create a safer, more family-oriented community through faith-based values.
Crute, who announced her candidacy for the District 3 seat in October, said that her campaign is coming along nicely. The Democrat said she expects to see more participation from voters and a higher level of scrutiny of the candidates in the July 15 primary.
"My main point is to make sure that the values and needs of the community are really implemented," said Crute. "I'm excited because the support has been so overwhelming."
Crute said she would promote diplomacy and help solve the "disconnect" between the county and its citizens, as well as the "overabundance of bad leadership."
Ralph, 30, became the youngest county commissioner in the state of Georgia when elected four years ago, he said. He said he feels confident defending his District 3 seat on his record of "transparency in government" and "getting people more involved."
"Since I've been elected, I've enjoyed a tremendous amount of support from the community," said Ralph. "I'm working extremely hard to make sure that this is a government that the people can believe in."
Ralph said he would begin actively campaigning in April, but until then, would work on increasing minority participation in the county's proposed 2008 Special Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) project.
In the race for chairman, Scott is one of the latest to announce his candidacy. While yet to file an intent to receive campaign funding form with the county, Scott said becoming chairman "has been my plans for 15 years ... this is just the time."
"The murder rate doubled in the first year that the administration took office," he said. "Crime has gone up every year since." He said, as chairman, he would create "a unified front to fight crime."
Randall, one of Scott's Democratic rivals, has accused Scott of pressuring his wife, Jewel, to fire him from his position with the district attorney. Lee Scott, however, vehemently denies those claims.
"I wouldn't force my wife to do anything," he said. "We've been married for 23 years and she always does what she thinks is right."
Randall defends his accusations, saying that distinctions in character had to be drawn. "It had to come up because it shows what kind of politics [Lee] would stoop to," said Randall. "You can't get around that. We can't separate character out of leadership ... we need not only change, but integrity."
Randall said citizens desire "leadership that is responsive to their needs," and promised to provide "genuine leadership."
"They are tired of the same-old, same- old," he said. "It's not about ego, but what's right and best for the people of Clayton County. I'm very encouraged that there is change on the horizon."
Wade, former pastor of Love Fellowship Church International in Jonesboro, and an adjunct professor at Strayer University and The University of Phoenix, said that, if elected chairman, he would stress action over words. He plans to implement better government through the R.E.C.E.I.P.T.S. concept -- responsibility, education, communication, economic development, [improving] identity, planned growth, trustworthy government, and safety.
"We have to demand that our schools get better," said Wade. "We can't be apathetic about it anymore. We have to get back in touch with our citizens and our business community."
Wade promised to draw information from successful governments around the metro area to improve the local economy and make Clayton County "stop being the door mat of the airport, and become the gateway."
Clark, a stay-at-home father in Forest Park, and a 33-year Clayton resident, described himself not as a politician, but rather, a concerned citizen heavily invested in the county.
"I have two children and one on the way in April, and the things happening in Clayton County concern me," he said. "That is why I took the liberty to put my hat into the ring, so to speak.
"We have a rich history in Clayton County and we can be a great example to the state and the world, if we have somebody in office who relates to the community. I'm not a politician, but I know I can make a difference. I'm a person of action."
Onyemenam, a limousine service owner, and currently the only Republican running for chairman, said he has a distinct advantage over Democratic candidates, who will be weeded out in the July 15 primary.
"I've picked up a lot of support from the community," he said. "The county has not been managed economically, and that's a problem. My goal is revitalizing the county, to go out and look for new businesses, and find tax structures to make them stay.
"Economics are the biggest problem," Onyemenam said. "When people have jobs, it will bring down the crime rate."
Ethridge, who has worked in county law enforcement for almost 16 years, is currently Gray's only challenger for the District 2 seat. Ethridge said the county's economic decline could be reversed with a "better budgeting process."
"I understand what it is like to live here, shop here, and work here," he said. "Things haven't been as positive as they could be, but we have other aspects to make Clayton a model county. We just have to have the right people, with the right focus, with the motivation to get that done ... I think that I am the right person."
Ethridge said he would focus on decreasing crime, increasing property values, and improving the local economy. He will run as a Democrat.
Bell and Gray could not be reached for comment.