Jeff Turner and Shana Rooks will take office Jan. 1, 2013, as the Clayton County commission chairman and District 3 commissioner, respectively.
JONESBORO One era in Clayton County government will end next week and another one will begin with the arrival of new leadership on the county’s Board of Commissioners.
Gone will be outgoing Chairman Eldrin Bell and Vice-Chairman Wole Ralph after each has served eight years in office. In will come new Chairman Jeff Turner and new District 3 Commissioner Shana Rooks, who are promising to ease into their new positions, but bring a new way of doing the county’s business.
Turner and Rooks were each sworn in to office during separate inauguration ceremonies held last weekend.
“Thomas Jefferson believed that in order to preserve the very foundation of our nation, we would need dramatic change from time to time,” said Turner during his inauguration last Saturday. “Well, my fellow citizens, this is our time. Let us embrace it.”
Turner and Rooks will officially take office Tuesday, but their first day on the job will actually be Wednesday, when the county returns from its New Year’s Day holiday. Wednesday will also mark their first commission meeting as members of the county’s governing body.
With any major change in government comes questions about what the new leaders are planning to do once they take office. The new commission members said they will take their time with some of their decisions, but there are others they will put in motion immediately.
They said a forensic audit of the county’s finances and resources, as well as the assembling of an ethics panel to oversee the behavior of commissioners are two of their top initial goals. Those steps would help them do their jobs, but it would also improve the commission’s transparency with the public, they indicated.
“Anything that makes the citizens of District 3 and the county feel like they’re connected, their voices matter and they understand what’s going on in government, that’s what I want,” Rooks said. She added she wants to see television and live Internet broadcasts of commission meetings so more citizens can see the governing board in action.
At his inauguration, Turner promised to run a government that was open with citizens and grounded in what it believes it can achieve while taking a not-so-veiled swipe at Bell.
“In leaving this era of double talk, empty rhetoric and grand promises that cannot be kept, I pledge to speak to you with candor, clarity and frank honesty concerning the issues we face,” the incoming chairman said. After the ceremony, he pledged transparency and a “more community-oriented attitude” in the county government.
Tighter budget looms for the county
Turner then proceeded to tell residents and county employees that they should expect to see the county tightening its fiscal belt during the next budget cycle. The county’s budget is one of the major issues Turner expects to begin addressing almost immediately as department heads begin making their requests for what they need in fiscal year 2014.
At one point, Turner said the county would have to “invest more in our own people and yet spend less” at the same time.
“We have to learn to do more with less,” he said.
Rooks stressed that it will be Turner’s budget to put together, but she added, “Whatever support he needs in putting that together, I’m sure the board will lend its support.”
What about Wade Starr and other department heads?
One issue on which they are not playing their cards is whether they will retain County Manager Wade Starr. The county commission voted earlier this month to set a deadline of Jan. 18 to decide whether to extend Starr’s contract past its expiration date in September.
Will he stay or will he go? Turner and Rooks were asked the question but remained tight-lipped.
“It’s a personnel issue,” Rooks said.
Turner said he will review Starr’s employment along with the employment of every department head before making decisions about allowing them to stay with the county. In addition to Starr, there is interest in what the former Clayton County police chief will do with current police chief Greg Porter. As is the case with Starr, Turner won’t say what he’ll do with Porter.
“There will be a 60- to 90-day review period for all department heads,” Turner said. “I’ll sit down with each of them and we’ll go over how successful they’ve been and what their plans are for the future of their departments.”
Rooks will consult residents input on recreation center name
The naming of the Wole Ralph Recreation Center in Lovejoy is one of the last controversial decisions made by the commission while Ralph and Bell were members.
The controversy stems from the results of a contest held to decide the center’s name. Residents were asked to submit their recommendations for a name and 21 submissions were some play on the Lovejoy name. Seven recommendations included Ralph’s name by comparison.
However, commissioners opted to name it after Ralph, which has prompted residents both in favor of and against the name to speak out at commission meetings.
The center is located in Rooks’ district since she is inheriting it from Ralph. She was non-committal about whether a name change would happen, and explained she will listen to her constituents before deciding where she stands on the issue.
“If the citizens of District 3 continue to hold concerns about how the process was conducted, then we should revisit it,” Rooks said. “That’s not etched in stone yet. I want to hear from those who are in District 3.”