By Joel Hall
With more challengers than in any other local race, the fight for District 1 Commissioner may prove to be one of the more important contests in Clayton County in the 2010 election.
The winner of the race will either continue, or disrupt, the three-member voting majority that commissioners Wole Ralph, Gail Hambrick, and Sonna Singleton have established.
Over the past year, the trio of commissioners has voted together to push through such controversial measures as eliminating the Clayton Regional Law Enforcement Academy, and the seizure of take-home vehicles from the Clayton County Tax Commissioner's Office.
Five candidates are vying for the District 1 post: Rosalilia "Rosa" Barbee, Joyce Baul, Shegale Crute, Richard Reagan, and incumbent Singleton. The district includes parts of Morrow, Rex, and Ellenwood. All five candidates are Democrats, and face no Republican challengers. The seat could be won outright with 50 percent, plus one of the total votes during the Tuesday primary.
* Singleton, 47, a Rex home owner since 1996, and a community/parent liaison for Clayton County Public Schools, said a lack of economic development, and a public safety presence, has historically caused problems for the northeast portion of the county. She believes she has addressed both problems during her first term on the commission.
"I brought a lot of jobs to this district," Singleton said. "We've improved communication with the citizens, we've hired more police officers, [and] we've hired more code enforcement officers. A new fire station opened up in Ellenwood while I have been in office. We're looking forward to opening a new police precinct in 60 days. The Rex-Ellenwood area has grown so much ... we are continuing to head in that direction."
Singleton said the board has made several "tough decisions" over the past year, including the decision to discontinue the county's C-TRAN bus service, which she supported. She said her decisions on the board have helped the county improve its bond rating, and avoided laying off public safety workers, and cutting vital services. Prior to serving on the board, Singleton said, she served on the county's Code Enforcement Board, the C-TRAN Advisory Board, and the 2004 SPLOST Committee.
* Rosa Barbee, 33, a community activist, and volunteer from Rex, served as president of the Brookwood Village Homeowners' Association for six years, until last year. She believes county leadership has neglected the Ga. Highway 42 corridor. If elected, she said she would work to bring up the area.
"All you have to do is drive down Ga. Highway 42 and see how neglected it has been by our community officials," Barbee said. "I see a lot of empty homes and businesses. They have become dumping areas for trash, and tires, and have pretty much become an eyesore in the community. If I have to go out there myself, so be it, but we have to start somewhere."
Barbee, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, said she would work to improve relations between the county and its ethnic communities. As a graduate of the county's Citizen Police Academy, she said she would work toward creating a stronger police presence in the community.
* Joyce Baul, 56, a Rex resident of 11 years, and a part-time employee of a staffing agency, said she would work to attract more industry to the area by restoring some form of public transportation to the county. She said she would work to regain the people's trust in the BOC, which she believes is currently lacking.
"The public doesn't have a lot of confidence in them being able to get things done," Baul said. "I want to be able to assure them that we are going to work for them. I would bring sensitivity and passion to the board. I have no affiliation with anyone. I am just a citizen who feels this community needs to be changed."
Baul, who is a graduate of Leadership Clayton, also serves on the Clayton County Aging Program Advisory Board, the Rex Village Business Association, and is a member of Southern Crescent Democratic Women. She is a graduate of Clayton State University, who said she has lived in the county for 25 years.
* Richard Reagan, 66, a retired Delta Air Lines employee, served as District 1 Commissioner from 1995 to 1999. He said he was instrumental in bringing the 1996 Olympic Beach Volleyball Competition to Clayton County and the building of the Harold R. Banke Justice Center, as well as the current Clayton County Jail.
Reagan said District 1 has been plagued by a number of unattended homes in foreclosure, and proposed the creation of a "foreclosure registry" to alleviate the problem. Through the registry, he said, banks and other investors would pay a fee to the county to put homes into foreclosure and would be fined $1,000 if the properties are not maintained.
"Send the bank a bill and if they don't pay, file a lien on the home," Reagan said. "I think when you start filing some liens against these houses, that will start to get their attention."
Reagan accused Singleton, Ralph, and Hambrick of trying to "dilute the powers given to the chairman" of the board, by way of resolution. He also criticized the board for hiring full-time aides to handle the calls of commissioners.
"The commissioner is a part-time employee and they have full-time aides doing the work for them," Reagan said. "They are not running the Pentagon."
* Shegale Crute, 42, a project management consultant and legal assistant currently residing in Morrow, said while the county's millage rate was raised by 3 mills last year, the northeast portion of the county continues to suffer from a lack of services. She said recent actions of the board have put the county in "embarrassing positions," which she argued, has driven away businesses, and driven down property values.
"When leaders of the county are always at war with each other ... it causes good people, and the people who want to help, to leave," Crute said. "Decisions like ending public transit, a lot of the infighting, the inability to service the county and keep it looking like it should, and improper economic development ... a lot of them [constituents] don't feel like the leadership is really in touch with the correct direction the county is going in. Having done legal work for over 20 years -- because of that -- I have a good handle on zoning, contracts, city administration, and how governments should be run."
Crute recently gained the endorsement of several labor unions, including the Amalgamated Transit Union and the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council, for her stance on restoring public transportation to the county. She also is the ex-wife of Commissioner Wole Ralph, whose current term on the board doesn't expire until the year 2012.
Crute believes her leadership can bring stability to the board, despite her past ties to Ralph.
"Wole and I have always had a healthy respect for each other's abilities," Crute said. "While I might not agree with all of their decisions ... we all have common ground that we can find."