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Two Riverdale Council seats up for grabs

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Five candidates will compete for two open seats on the Riverdale City Council in the Nov. 3 election.

With several redevelopment projects currently underway in Riverdale, the candidates chosen in Tuesday's election will play a significant role in determining the city's future economic prosperity.

Incumbent Ward 1 Councilman Oritha "Rick" Scoggins, Jr., is being challenged by the candidate he defeated four years ago, Cynthia Stamps-Jones.

Incumbent Ward 3 Councilwomen Wanda Wallace faces two challengers -- Stan Byars and Veverly Brooks - both making their first bids for public office.

The Ward 1 race

Oritha "Rick" Scoggins, 55, is a real estate agent, who has lived in the city for 17 years. If re-elected, he will enter his third, four-year term on the council. Scoggins was reached twice, by phone, on Tuesday, but said he was too busy to comment.

Cynthia Stamps-Jones, 48, is a 16-year resident of Riverdale and an elementary school counselor with Clayton County Public Schools. While beaten by Scoggins in the last election, Stamps-Jones said she believes she has the momentum to defeat him the second time around.

"I feel like we have a team [on the city council] that truly has a plan to move our city forward ... [and] to bring new businesses," Stamps-Jones said. "The person who I am running against hasn't embraced the plan from the beginning, and he hasn't shared what his plans are. We can be better represented."

In the past year, Scoggins has been a vocal critic of the city council's decision to build its Riverdale Promenade development project (formerly known as the Town Center) on top of what was once Travon Wilson Park. He is embroiled in a lawsuit with the city, as well as the city's Downtown Development Authority, which is attempting to build a new park on Wilson Road to replace Travon Wilson Park.

"I embrace that decision [Riverdale Promenade]," Stamps-Jones said. "I would like to see smart economic growth come to the city. It's a smart move. We outgrew [Travon Wilson Park], and now we are getting ready for an even better park.

Stamps-Jones holds positions on several boards, including the Riverdale Planning and Zoning Board, the Riverdale Police Department's P.A.C.T. (Police and Citizens Together) and the Clayton County Archway Partnership Project Steering Committee. According to Stamps-Jones, she has helped organize several city events, including the city's annual "Fall Festival," the "Jammin-n-July" concert series, and the city's 2008 Centennial Celebration.

The Ward 3 race

Wanda Wallace, 44, is a 15-year resident of Riverdale and a two-term member of the Riverdale City Council. An optometry assistant for 22 years, Wallace was a member of the steering committee that envisioned the Riverdale Promenade.

She said she would like another four years on the council to see those plans fully realized. "Riverdale was falling behind other cities," she said. "I had a vision from day one, when I decided to run in 2000. It's there for people to see it now, sitting right behind Kroger [referring to the Riverdale Promenade construction site]. People told me that it wouldn't happen, and look where we are in three or four years. I have a vision to make it even better for the people here."

Wallace said during her time on the council, the city has created several new youth programs and implemented measures to cut back the use of taxpayers' dollars. She said during her tenure, she has helped the city develop a comprehensive plan, acquire $2.1 million in public grant money for various projects, and save $500,000, by restricting the use of take-home police cars.

Wallace said that if re-elected, she wants to create more youth programs, as well as redevelop the Upper Riverdale Road corridor.

"My goal is to bring more economic-growth businesses here," she said. "The people in this city deserve to have the same quality of life as other cities that have a big budget."

Stan Byars, 62, a retired Delta Air Lines customer service representative, has lived in Riverdale for two years. He has been politically active in the county for several years, and currently serves as a post member of the Clayton County Democratic Party, a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and a member of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials. Byars also serves as a volunteer with the Clayton County Juvenile Court's "Fast Track" alternative detention program.

Byars said, if elected, he would like to promote economic development, as well as unity among members of the city council. "I'm not particularly satisfied with the way business is being conducted in our city hall," he said. "It is obvious that there is a lack of teamwork. I have a lot of good ideas. I'll work very hard for unity, so that we can push forward."

Byars said he believes Riverdale can become "the pearl of Clayton County" by developing itself as an "airport city." He said he would work to establish businesses in the city that will cater to business travelers to, and from, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

"I have been in other cities near the airport where that has happened, and have seen the benefits," he said. "To be able to get off that airplane from China, or somewhere else, and come into a beautiful city like Riverdale, and conduct your business, that would be wonderful. I'd love to help in being instrumental in that."

Veverly Brooks, 56, a retired customer relations representative with AT&T, has been a Riverdale resident for five years. Brooks declined to be interviewed on Tuesday, and deferred comments to Stan Harris, whom she described as her "campaign manager." Harris described himself as "her lead advisor" and "one of several advisors."

On Tuesday, Harris declined to speak on Brooks' behalf.

Two years ago, Harris unsuccessfully ran against Ward 4 Councilman Kenny Ruffin. During the 2007 election, Harris and Georgia Fuller - a candidate who lost the race for the Ward 2 council seat - filed a lawsuit against former Ward 2 Councilwoman Michelle Bruce. In the lawsuit, Bruce, an hermaphrodite, who identifies as -- and lives as -- a woman, was accused of misrepresenting herself to voters by identifying herself as a woman on the forms declaring her intention to run for re-election.

Bruce lost her bid for re-election to Wayne Hall, the current Ward 2 councilman. In October 2008, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that Bruce did not lie about her gender to voters.