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Group to offer prayers for Clayton County

By Kathy Jefcoats

kjefcoats@news-daily.com

JONESBORO — Few would disagree that Clayton County has seen its share of turmoil and strife over the past few years.

From the Clayton County school system’s issues with accreditation to last year’s election that brought a change in commission leadership and the seating of a sheriff under felony indictment, it seems the county has reached the point where prayer is needed.

The Association of Christian Ministers of Clayton County is planning a “Pray for Our County” event Sunday at the courthouse, known as the Harold R. Banke Justice Center at 9151 Tara Blvd. in Jonesboro.

The event is from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Organizers said they will be praying for members of the county commission, elected officials, school administration and students and law enforcement officials.

In 2004, a historic vote brought in the county’s first black commission chairman, chief magistrate judge, solicitor general, district attorney and sheriff. Two years later, voters elected the county’s first black Superior Court judge.

There was a perceived hope for the future of the county and the atmosphere was one of a new beginning.

But turmoil reared its ugly head on the first day those five elected officials took office Jan. 2, 2005, when Sheriff Victor Hill fired 27 deputies under the scrutiny of armed snipers on the courthouse roof.

That incident seemed to have kicked-off nearly a decade of a downhill slide for Clayton County and brought unwanted negative attention from across the country.

Clayton County quickly became the butt of jokes throughout the state and drew scorn from outsiders.

Hill also had his predecessor’s brother arrested for allegedly making threats but the case didn’t stick and Hill was sued in federal court for wrongful arrest. Hill lost and recently was allowed to use taxpayers funds to settle the $300,000 judgment against him.

Hill battled with county commissioners over issues as trivial as a Wall of Honor and re-placement of courthouse plaques, and as expensive as wholesale re-painting of patrol cars to reflect his position as sheriff.

A settlement with the fired deputies cost millions of dollars.

By the end of his term, voters had had enough and failed to re-elect him. Four years later, however, voters did an about-face and put Hill back in office despite his being under a 37-count felony indictment.

In August, a jury acquitted Hill of all charges.

The school system lost accreditation in 2008 and worried parents began pulling their children out of county schools. The loss came at the same time the economy plunged into a depression. Foreclosures began climbing, jobs started failing and residents who could afford to, left Clayton County in search of a better life elsewhere.

Accreditation was restored in 2009 but the system was on probation for two years. Officials said it has been in the clear since 2011.