Supporters of ex-county Commissioner Wole Ralph held up signs at a commission meeting Wednesday to encourage commissioners to keep his name on a new recreation center in Lovejoy. The commission voted 3-2 to remove the controversial former commissioner’s name from the building.
JONESBORO The Clayton County Board of Commissioners stripped a new recreation center of the name of a controversial ex-commissioner in a move that sparked outrage from his supporters Wednesday.
In a 3-2 vote, the commission voted to change the name of the Wole Ralph Recreation Center in Lovejoy to the South Clayton Recreation Center. Commissioners Sonna Singleton and Gail Hambrick voted against changing the facility’s name. Singleton, Hambrick and Ralph often voted in a three-person bloc on matters when Ralph was on the commission.
The commission attached Ralph’s name to the center last month — even though a large majority of entrants in a naming contest recommended some variation on Lovejoy — but Ralph and former Chairman Eldrin Bell have since left office.
“A very, very small portion of people voted to name that the Wole Ralph Center,” said new commission Chairman Jeff Turner. “I take nothing away from this young man. I appreciate what he did for Clayton County over the years, but we had some discussions and there were discussions from other people in the county who wanted to have it named something else. That’s what we took into consideration.”
The “South Clayton Recreation Center” name came as a bit of a surprise because the center had been expected to be renamed the Lovejoy Recreation Center. However, in an unexpected twist, no commissioner would make the motion to approve that name. After that action died, new Commissioner Shana Rooks made a motion to attach the “South Clayton” name instead.
Rooks defeated Ralph in the District 3 commission seat run-off election last August and had said before taking office that she would consult with residents in her district before deciding whether Ralph’s name should stay on the facility.
Eight residents protested the change in public comment, claiming that Ralph — who is awaiting trial on DUI charges in Atlanta — was an upstanding citizen who was responsible for the recreation center being built. However, the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax designed to pay for the construction of recreation centers in the county was approved by voters before Ralph took office in 2005.
Clayton County NAACP President Synamon Baldwin, in a statement read by NAACP member David Hanson, called the decision to change the name the “annihilation of a young black man.”
During the meeting, some residents held up signs with “Keep Wole Ralph Recreation Center” printed upon them.
“No one is more deserving of having this recreation center named after them than former Commissioner Wole Ralph,” said Hampton resident Linda Crawley-Simmons. She later added, “I think this board has many important decisions and tasks to handle and I pray that the vindictiveness, backbiting and an attitude of ‘I’ll fix you’ are things of the past.”
Crawley-Simmons inadvertently elicited cheers from opponents of the Ralph name, however, when she suggested the commission go a step further and remove the names of government officials from all public buildings in the county.
One opponent of the Ralph name, Fayetteville resident Michael Bryant, said he felt the former commissioner did not do enough in his eight years in office to warrant having his name put on a recreation center.
“I agree that former Commissioner Ralph deserves some respect, but recreation centers should be named for individuals or people in the community that have really, really stood out and done some excellent service,” Bryant said. “I don’t believe Commissioner Ralph has done excellent service. He’s been good, but not excellent.”