JONESBORO — The leadership of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners was thrown out by voters Tuesday with both Chairman Eldrin Bell and Vice-Chairman Wole Ralph losing their re-election bids by landslide margins.
Former Clayton County police Chief Jeff Turner defeated Bell with 67.34 percent of the 23,994 votes cast in the chairman’s run-off. Jonesboro attorney Shana Rooks, meanwhile, defeated Ralph with 64.64 percent of the 7,107 votes cast in the District 3 commission run-off.
Turner’s victory over Bell caps a comeback for the former police chief. Two and a half years ago, the commission removed him from his position in the county police department and re-assigned him to the county police academy. Six months later, the commission voted to abolish the police academy.
Now, the commissioners will have to look to Turner for leadership.
“Although the commission saw fit to remove me from my former position, the people never gave up hope and faith in me and my leadership abilities,” said Turner. “They made that clear when they went back to the polls today and allowed me to become chairman in a landslide victory.”
Bell told the media that he is leaving the office “in good standing.”
Rooks said she “feels wonderful” after her commanding victory over Ralph. She said her first priorities upon taking office in January will be to work on reducing the county’s unemployment numbers, rolling back high fees for senior centers in the county and calling for a forensic audit of county finances.
“I am so proud of the constituents for understanding that we need a change and they came to the polls to make it happen,” said Rooks.
Ralph, who has served on the commission since 2005, expressed no qualms about the results of the run-off. He said he will gladly offer assistance to Rooks once she takes office.
“We ran the best race we possibly could,” he said. “We knocked on as many doors and called as many people as we could. I respect the wishes of my constituents and wish a heartfelt congratulations to Commissioner-Elect Rooks.”
While it is too soon to tell what is next for Ralph, he did not rule out the possibility of working with Atlanta and county officials to attract more cargo airlines to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. It is a cause close to the hearts of airport officials and it is something he has championed as a commissioner.
“I believe that is the future of Clayton County,” he said.
While Bell and Ralph entered the run-off with narrow leads from the July 31 primary, the loss of both of them marks a desire by voters for change on the county commission.
The commission has drawn criticism in recent years for dramatically raising fees for senior centers in 2010 as well as hiring former state Rep. Wade Starr as county manager and raising property taxes by 34 percent in 2011. Commissioners have also drawn fire from leaders of the county’s seven cities who have repeatedly claimed county officials would not meet with them to negotiate a new service delivery strategy.
Ralph has also drawn criticism for his 2011 DUI arrest on Metropolitan Parkway in Atlanta. He is awaiting trial in Fulton County State Court on charges of DUI, reckless driving, failure to maintain a lane and obstruction of an officer. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Bell, meanwhile, has accepted $2,000 in campaign contributions from East Point-based Collaborative Firm LLC which has received two county consulting contracts, worth more than a quarter of a million dollars, in the last month.