Photo by Curt Yeomans
Jonesboro resident David Clark provoked controversy on Monday when he complained to county commissioners about plans to spend money on a reception, held in conjunction with plans to memorialize an ancestor of Michelle Obama.
The county’s plan to memorialize Melvinia Shields, the great-great-great-grandmother of First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama, next week has become entangled in the county’s long-standing fight over last year’s property tax increases. It has brought allegations of misuse of money, and charges of racism from opposing sides on the issue.
The point of contention that has fanned passions is the plan to spend $375 for valet parking, and $2,000 for catering for a reception to be held after the memorial dedication. The money comes from hotel and motel taxes, and not property taxes, according to county leaders.
The debate obegan Monday, when Jonesboro resident David Clark e-mailed county commissioners, saying he was “appalled” by two resolutions the commission was set to vote on Tuesday night. The resolutions authorized the county to enter agreements with Boon Management, LLC (for valet parking), and The Grand Gourmet (for catering) for a June 26 reception.
Both resolutions were unanimously approved by county commissioners.
“After reviewing the Board of Commissioners Agenda for 19 June 2012, I am appalled that public monies will be allocated and spent in accordance with proposed Resolution 2012-122 and 2012-123,” Clark wrote in his e-mail to commissioners, adding that the idea “is financially negligent at best.”
Clayton County Chairman Eldrin Bell supports the expenses.
“It’s a sad commentary when we have to make everything political,” Bell said. “It has become entangled in politics, as do many things in this day and age. I’m not going to ignore anyone’s beliefs, but I’m simply asking them to join us in investing Clayton County’s monies in the future.”
County leaders are defending their plans for the memorial, as well as the reception, and a book signing by author Rachel L. Swarns (who wrote a book about Mrs. Obama’s genealogy) from the criticism.
Clark’s complaints prompted Clayton County NAACP President Synamon Baldwin to criticism him, according to an e-mail he provided to local media. “This smacks of racism!” the e-mail states, adding that there is “no cost involved to the Clayton taxpayer. The money is coming from hotel and motel taxes.”
County officials say the expenses is necessary to help to build up a genealogy industry in Clayton County. The national and state archives are located in Morrow, and state tourism and history officials are expected to attend the event.
Valet parking is needed for the reception, they say, because the archives property has a limited number of parking spaces. Overflow parking will be located at the vacant Ingles building across busy Ga. Hwy. 54 from the archives.
Visitors to the event are expected to come from as far as south Georgia, which means they could likely generate hotel and motel tax dollars for Clayton County while they are in town.
“This event will generate a number of people coming to stay in our hotels, and visit our county and spend their dollars in Clayton County, and that helps to further the tax base for our citizens,” Commission Vice-Chairman Wole Ralph told reporters after the commission’s vote on Tuesday. “This is a great use of money.”