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Run-off to decide future of county

JONESBORO — Will Clayton County voters elect an indicted former sheriff or an incumbent whose office has seen its fair share of scandals?

Will they vote a former Atlanta police chief back into office for a third term as county commission chairman? Or will they turn the reins of the county over to a former Clayton County police chief who was stripped of his law enforcement position two and a half years ago in a controversial decision by the commission?

Advance voting for the Aug. 21 run-off elections continues this week at the Clayton County Elections and Registration Office, 121 South McDonough St., Jonesboro. People can cast ballots between 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. every day until Friday.

Embattled former Sheriff Victor Hill is challenging incumbent Sheriff Kem Kimbrough for a second term. Hill served as sheriff from 2005 until Kimbrough defeated him in his 2008 reelection bid. He was indicted in January on 37 felony counts alleging he ran the sheriff’s office as a criminal enterprise bordering on racketeering, but he has denied the allegations.

If he is elected at the ballot box and then convicted in court, Hill will have to vacate the sheriff’s office. The governor will appoint an interim sheriff and then a special election will be held to find a new sheriff.

Kimbrough led an eight-candidate field on July 31 with 42.4 percent of the 31,560 votes cast in that election, compared to 37.53 percent for Hill.

Former Clayton County police Chief Jeff Turner is challenging incumbent Eldrin Bell for the office of Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman. Bell has served two terms as chairman and if he is reelected, he will be 80 when his third term ends.

Turner was a popular police chief but the commission voted in a controversial December 2009 decision to remove him and transfer him to the Clayton County police academy. The commission voted six months later to shut down the academy, but Turner has remained popular since then.

Bell narrowly led a three-person field for the office July 31 with 41.94 percent of the 30,724 votes cast in that election, compared to 41.91 percent for Turner. The men were separated by only 10 votes.

Incumbent District 3 Commissioner Wole Ralph is being challenged by attorney Shana Rooks. This is the third time Ralph has faced a run-off for his seat. He previously won run-offs in 2004 and 2008, but he has never come into a run-off with as narrow a lead as he does this year.

Ralph, who is also the commission’s appointed vice-chairman, received 44.07 percent of the 8,512 votes cast in a three-person race on July 31, while Rooks got 42.79 percent.

Ralph is awaiting trial on DUI, reckless driving, failure to maintain a lane and obstruction of an officer charges in Fulton County State Court stemming from an alleged February 2011 incident. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The State Senate District 44 race features a rematch of the 2008 “Battle of the Gails” — incumbent Sen. Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro) versus former state representative and state senator Gail Buckner. The seat has gone back and forth between the two women since 2006.

Davenport won the seat in 2006 but Buckner defeated the senator in her 2008 reelection bid. Buckner then left the seat in 2010 to pursue her second, unsuccessful bid for the Georgia Secretary of State office while Davenport simultaneously ran for, and regained, the open senate seat.

Davenport received 48.46 percent of the 24,718 votes cast in the July 31 election, while Buckner got 42.29 percent. A third candidate, Marcus E. Davis, received 9.24 percent of the votes. This district also includes southwest DeKalb County.

Attorney Ronnie Mabra and teacher T.J. Copeland are facing each other in the runoff for the newly-created State House of Representatives District 63 seat. Mabra received 49.21 percent of the 6,198 votes cast on in a three-way race on July 31 while Copeland got 27.12 percent. This district is mostly in Fayette County but it includes Clayton County’s panhandle area.

Voting began last Thursday and elections officials said 460 voters, out of 150,788 registered voters, had cast ballots by 5 p.m. Monday. People wanting to cast ballots in the run-off had to register to vote by July 2.

County elections officials are warning voters they can only vote in the run-off if they voted in the Democratic primary or if they cast nonpartisan ballots in the July 31 election, according to a notice on the county website.