By Daniel Silliman
Healing a politically and socially divided Clayton County is going to take some humility -- and confessions of responsibility from all sides, according to State Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro).
Speaking to the Clayton County Rotary Club as part of a seven-person panel on building "The New Clayton," Glanton went beyond talk of elections and school accreditation, economics and negative news coverage.
"Everyone wants to fix everything, to be the solution, but what they don't want is to come together and relinquish the control that will allow it to happen," he said. "There's a reluctance among the general population to accept the new leadership in Clayton County. And there's a reluctance on the part of the new leadership, to accept diversity."
In 2004, a slate of black candidates was voted into office in the county, in a much-noted change.
Politics has been very contentious in the county in recent years, with critics saying officials are inexperienced, incompetent and destroying the county, and officials saying the critics are part of the rejected power structure, who always wanted the black leaders to fail.
The way Glanton sees the situation, the sides are each responsible for part of the problem, turmoil, and crisis. He told the Rotary Club the county is only now starting to deal with problems left here for 15 or 20 years by the old, white leaders -- and the new, black leaders, lacking experience, made things worse by learning on the job.
"Y'all know it's true," said Glanton, an ordained minister. "No one wants to say it. Well, Mike Glanton said it."
Glanton is up for re-election to a second term in the Georgia General Assembly, but is unopposed. His statements were met by applause Wednesday afternoon.
Also on the panel were: State Rep. Celeste Johnson, (D-Jonesboro); Geoff Fulton, chair of the board of directors of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce; Mike Twomey, president and director of the Morrow Business and Tourism Association; Gail Web, with the University of Georgia's Archway Partnership Project; Pat Duncan, president and CEO of the Clayton County Convention and Visitor's Bureau; Linda Summerlin, executive director of Arts Clayton.
The seven answered questions about how to make the area better, and how leaders could improve the county's image.
Rep. Johnson said she wanted to see a major project to promote a positive image, something similar to the "I [heart] NY" campaign in New York City.
"I believe that Clayton County needs a re-branding effort," said Johnson, who was just elected to serve a second term in the state legislature. "We need to look at initiating something ... that will give this county a face-lift."
Other panelists spoke of promoting what is already in the county -- like Spivey Hall and Arts Clayton.
"We are so much more than what the media says we are," said Duncan. "We're all nice."
He said the tourism bureaus and business communities are working together to make sure visitors "can come in and sit on the front porch and find out who we are."