by Robin Kemp

Clayton County Commission Chair Jeff Turner says the county is in “exceptionally healthy” financial position despite a solid year of COVID-19, and that the county is uniquely positioned to take advantage of prime real estate near the world’s busiest airport.

Last year, the annual event had more of a gala feel: brunch in a ballroom of the Georgia International Convention Center for several hundred of the county’s leading lights. This year’s State of the County speech, sponsored by the Council for Quality Growth, took place in the Performing Arts Center. Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services greeted the limited number of county and business attendees with a QR code for a COVID-19 symptom screening and temperature checks. Inside, rows of taped-off seats marked social distance.

Who sponsored the speech?

The program’s many sponsors are a roll call of movers and shakers in the county, including presenting sponsors Comcast and the Development Authority of Clayton County; gold sponsors Atlas, CBRE, The Collaborative Firm, and Southern Regional Medical Center; resource sponsor Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District; silver sponsors Atlanta Airport CIDs, Georgia Power, GFL Environmental, Jacobs, MARTA, and Ohio River South; bronze sponsors AECOM, CERM, City of Lake City, Freeman Mathis Gary LLP, H.J. Russell, Housing Authority of Clayton County, Kaiser Permanente, Local Initiative Support Corporation, and United Consulting, and marketing partner Clayton County Chamber of Commerce.

Speakers and presenters

The Clayton County Honor Guard presented the colors, SonShyne Morton sang the National Anthem, and Clayton County Police Department Chaplain Rebecca Brown gave the invocation and benediction.

Michael E Paris, president and CEO of the Council for Quality Growth, an organization for the development industry that advocates what it calls “responsible growth” emceed the event.

CQG Chairman Doug Jenkins gave a shoutout to his alma mater, Riverdale High. “The Council is proud to be here with Chairman Turner as he leads this community,” he said. “Thank you, Chairman, to you and to your commission for your service to Clayton, and we really look forward to hearing about all the great things that’s going on in this county.”

Comcast Vice President for Government Affairs Andy Macke acknowledged Commissioner Felicia Franklin, “my teammate on the Atlanta Transit Link Board and doing a really outstanding job of advocating for Clayton County and expanding transit options across the region,” adding he was honored to serve with her in expanding Clayton County transportation options and that many of Comcast’s 4,000 employees who support the county’s broadband needs live in Clayton County.

Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District Director Katherine Zitsch, who updates the county on water issues every year, presented virtually this year. She offered a behind-the-scenes video of water delivery workers’ efforts during COVID-19.

See the District’s water resource management plan for Clayton County, which lists the water sources it plans to use, projected needs, and phasing plans through 2050:

DACC Executive Director Larry Vincent welcomed attendees “to the best community in South Metro. That is Clayton County.” He pointed out that Clayton County is home to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Clorox Manufacturing, Fresh Express, and QuikTrip Kitchen, “all of which are clients of the Development Authority, and we played a great role in getting those facilities here and expand here.” Vincent said Clayton County is having a “renaissance,” driven by food manufacturing and transportation and logistics, and that DACC has been tasked with workforce development. That includes hiring over 4,000 people in those expanding market segments. He said workforce development is “a team sport,” and that city and county leaders, local chambers, Aerotropolis Atlanta, the ARC Workforce team, and the Clayton County Resource Center were the county’s essential partners in growing the workforce. “The Development Authority stands ready to support the construction, acquisition, leasing, or equipping new industrial facilities or modernizing existing industrial facilities.” Wraparound service and expedited permitting makes the county “quick to go from master planning to financing to ribbon cutting. So, why would you open and expand anywhere else but Clayton County?”

Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Morcease Beasley told the audience, “You should know that we have been engaged in virtual learning since March of last year….but we are in the process, and we’re very thankful to be at a point, where we’re beginning to phase back into face-to-face instruction. We’re grateful that the vaccine distribution has begun, with educators started Monday, and will continue throughout the month of March. We’re grateful that our school system has seen the highest grad rates in its history–our grad rate is just short of 80 percent, We’re getting very close to 80 percent. Most of our high schools are above 80 percent. Two of them are at 100 percent. And one that’s 100 percent, he sometimes slips down to 99 percent, so we won’t hold that against him.” He said Advanced Placement scores are “closing the gap with the state,” that literacy is “always a work in progress,” and that he wants to see more kids “doing math and reading on or above grade level.” More students are dual-enrolled and entering college, even though the pandemic “has had a negative impact on decisions to go to college.”

Beasley said Clayton County’s efforts to reach out to the community during the pandemic “serves as a model, and I would like to recognize our chairman, Jeff Turner, for leading this county through a very challenging, challenging global situation, with Clayton County not missing a beat….Whether you know this or not, he pulls us together on a weekly basis, not as often now, because we’re getting to the end of this situation, but he pulls all of us, all of the cities and all the elected officials and appointed officials together, to go through exactly what we’re doing as a county, for us to give a report as to the progress we’re making in our various sectors and industries, making sure that the families in Clayton County, in particular our children, are well taken care of. I don’t know about you, but to me, that is leadership. That is leadership that we need at every level in this country.”

Turner: Don’t sleep on Clayton

Turner, who has been chair since 2013, said the county “came together as one to address the needs of our citizens and business owners” during the COVID-19 crisis.

Clayton County COO Detrick Stanford

“Although I will talk about the state of the county, I thought that it would be more important to highlight the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Turner said.

“However, I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to tell our department heads, our employees, and our command staff how proud I am of the work you are doing in our county. Great things are happening here because of the work that y’all are doing every day.” He thanked Chief Operating Officer Detrick Stanford and county employees for their hard work.

“During a very rough year for so many counties and cities throughout our state and nation, the financial position of the county is exceptionally healthy,” Turner said, with higher than average cash funds and median general fund balances. Turner said the county’s debt burden is “very small, which is favorable with respect to our Aa2 rating.” He said the county’s moderate pension debt is “generally reflected in our rating” and consistent with the U.S. median. Net direct debt to full value is down to 0.3%, roughly equivalent to the U.S. median.

Clayton County CFO Ramona Bivins

“So what does all of that mean for those of us who are not CPAs or accountants?” he asked. “That means that, despite being in a global pandemic, Clayton County is being fiscally responsible and our financial outlook for 2021 looks strong.” He commended the Finance Department and CFO Ramona Bivins.

Despite the pandemic, Turner noted the county “to land and secure some major developments,” including Clorox’s $65 million plant expansion adding 100 jobs, Chime Solutions‘ new contracts “that will allow them to hire another 700-plus employees,” and major mixed-use developments in the works for Lake City and Mountain View, “which collectively are $750 million projects.”

Turner added, “Clayton County remains a county of opportunity with buildable land and great resources. We are only starting to scratch the surface of where we are going in the years to come.”

Clayton County Tourism and Film Office Executive Director Tamara Patridge

Although COVID-19 shut down the film industry last March, Turner said Netflix‘s “Stranger Things” came back to Clayton County in the fourth quarter of 2020 and that, in 2021 the county film office has had “a steady stream of calls from longtime film industry friends who are happy to be back to work with enhanced set safety protocols in place, and reported that Clayton County was first on their list of locations.” He thanked Tamara Patridge and the Tourism Authority Board for their efforts.

Turner urged people to support hotels, small businesses, and restaurants, which were hit especially hard when COVID-19 froze out tourism. The county gave out $500,000 in small business relief grants (200 businesses got $2,500 each), $1 million in CARES Act funds were used to stop evictions, and the Community Development department got $8.7 million in CARES Act funds to help citizens with rent and utilities.

“The Board of Commissioners are doing everything we can to help our constituents and small businesses, but let’s keep it 100,” he said. “If we don’t get this pandemic under control, people and businesses will continue to suffer and may have to shutter their doors, regardless of how much money we give them. So my plea to all of you is to simply support your local businesses.”

Kaiser Permanente Southwood

COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Clayton County has been the work of Kaiser Permanente, the Georgia Department of Public Health, Clayton County, and the federal government, he said, adding that one of Kaiser Permanente’s three vaccine distribution sites is at its Southwood Medical Center.

Turner, who was the first Black police chief of the Clayton County Police Department before he was commission chair, announced a pilot health program for law enforcement officers, “Reconnecting with Why,” to help them cope with the stresses that come with the job. “Sometimes you just need to talk to somebody,” Turner said. “This type of program has been greatly needed in the law enforcement community for years.”

Southern Regional Medical Center

Southern Regional Medical Center, the county’s 331-bed nonprofit hospital, is marking its 50th anniversary with a newly-remodeled emergency room that can serve 45 patients. Turner said SRMC “continually receives recognition for high quality care,” including awards for heart attack and stroke care, and recently was named Georgia’s number-three large hospital statewide. “The perceptions and finding of what Southern Regional was are not indicative of what they are today,” he told the audience.

Noting that “2020 has been a very rough year on everyone, especially our healthcare facilities and workers,” Turner praised SRMC for its approach to handling COVID-19. The hospital immediately initiated PPE conservation; opened a vaccination clinic for all hospital employees, physicians, and family members 65 and older; and built a COVID-only unit to isolate those patients from the rest of the ICU. While SRMC still does not allow any visitors “until conditions improve,” he said, “they are doing some incredible things there. Southern Regional is a hospital that we can be proud to have serving our community.” The hospital, which had a fire in the emergency room on New Year’s, has just opened its newly-remodeled ER.

Turner warned the audience, “Now is not the time to become complacent as the (COVID-19) numbers are coming down. We need to double down on masking” as vaccination efforts continue. As the pandemic is slowly brought under control, he said, “county programs will come back online responsibly, especially for seniors.”

The county’s new logo, tagline, and marketing slogan

Turner pointed to recent or pending openings of several community facilities: the Northwest Library, the International Beach Water Park, the Northeast Senior Center, and the Flint River Intergenerational Center: “Trust me when I say your tax dollars are being well spent on the projects you, the citizens, voted for.”

He also bragged about a story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that referenced a Wall Street Journal article highlighting a report from McKinzie and Company on corporate efforts to diversify upper management.

“It said that companies may need to open new offices in cities like Atlanta, where diverse talent already resides. It went on to say, and I quote from the article, “For example, Clayton County, Georgia. It has a majority Black population, and much of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is located there. Clayton County also claims to have the largest amount of available real estate next to a major airport, potentially marrying an attractive location with a relevant and diverse workforce.’ End quote.”

“So, as I always say, if you get caught sleeping on Clayton County, then shame on you. We are the county where the world lands and opportunities take off.”

Watch the full event, including Chairman Turner’s speech, followed by a special video produced by Clayton County’s Communications Office (click the blue “Watch on Vimeo” button):

State of Clayton 2021 from Council for Quality Growth on Vimeo.

Here’s a look at how the county is doing:

Fire and Emergency Management Services

  • 2,544 COVID-19 vaccinations as of February
  • Over 14,200 COVID-19 tests
  • Only county with fully-functional mobile clinic
  • 1 of 2 counties with full staff physician
  • Only metro Atlanta county with Abbott ID NOW rapid COVID-19 testing and Cepheid rapid COVID-19 and flu testing
  • Built -80°C freezer, -20°C freezer, and lab-grade refrigerator for vaccinations in county, cities

Police Department

  • Part 1 Crimes down 23% overall, with 5 of 7 categories down (+/- 4.76 for all but homicide):
    • Homicide: Up 9% (37)
    • Rape: Down 33% (177)
    • Robbery: Down 29% (297)
    • Aggravated Assault: Up 10% (847)
    • Burglary: Down 55% (738)
    • Theft: Down 18% (3753)
    • Vehicle Theft: Down 27% (837)
  • FAA Drone and CALEA certified
  • Tourniquets, training via Byrne Grant
  • Vehicle accidents down 8.2% (11,075)
  • 6.5% more cases solved in 2020 than 2019

Communications

Finance

OPM

Performance Management

  • Trained departments on performance analytics and Envisio
  • Created public dashboard of strategic plan and six pillars for constituents
  • Partnered on $300,000 Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding program award with Public Safety and Information Technology Departments
  • Partnered with Central Services on procurement process for administering $8.7 million for emergency rental assistance
  • Collaborated with Chamber of Commerce, Development Authority on Clayton CARES small business COVID-19 grant process/evaluation
  • Energage employee survey
  • Click Clayton 2.0 merged See Click Fix, Constituent Services, GovQA open records system
  • Human Resources and Ernst & Young on transformation process improvement project

Building and Maintenance

  • Implemented new Planning, Design, and Construction Division
  • Renovated and relocated Tax Assessor’s Office

Elections and Registration

youth

Office of Youth Services

  • With Board of Health, created Teen Maze on work, STDs, pregnancy, jail, courts, and crash scene with Board of Health, serving 197 youth ages 12-19
  • With Elite Scholars Academy, collected 1,532+ books for Books for Africa, Bloom Closet, and Goodwill
  • Hosted Make Music Count app for 50 student for 1 year through Youth Service America grant
  • Supported Serve Vote Fellow and Youth Commissioner Vivan Huynh’s get out the vote drive
  • Hosted Coping with COVID-19 Zoom meeting with Dr. DeAnn Bing for teens to express COVID-19 concerns and have questions answered privately

Community Development

  • Redesigned website to be more user-friendly
  • Timely processed $5,618,885 in HUD COVID-19 Clayton CARES Act grants
  • Implemented successful teleworking and maintained high-80-percentile productivity
  • Tested, trained, and transitioned Energov software to web during COVID-19
  • Onboarded new company to find lost business license revenue
  • Successfully managed county’s, cities’ 2020 Census outreach program

Senior Services

  • Clayton County’s first Symposium for Veterans: Vet Connect (250 veterans served)
  • No service interruption to home-delivered meals for 150 seniors on waiting list, as well as 60,000+ meals to homebound seniors, during COVID-19
  • Developed COVID-19 Operating Manual shared with senior services departments statewide
  • Weekly wellness calls to 4,000+ members of Senior Centers/Kinship Care during COVID-19
  • Bailey, Griswell Centers fed daily emergency meals for seniors transported to/from centers before pandemic
  • 400+ virtual classes and programs

Corrections Department

  • Consolidated Residential and Commercial Code Enforcement
  • CCPD Residential and Community Development Commercial Code Enforcement reorganized under Corrections
  • New code enforcement division
  • Cross-trained residential, commercial officers
  • New sanitation improvements, COVID-19 safety protocols to protect prison inmates
  • Managed “enormous workload” and service demand prompted by COVID-19

Library System

Central Services

Parks and Recreation

  • Lake Spivey Recreation Center, 2 Bark Parks opened
  • Added outdoor fitness equipment along trails with QR codes for instructor-led videos at each station
  • With 12-year-old Isabel Donaldson, launched a Little Free Library at the Children’s Playground at International Park
  • Daily and weekly COVID-19 Sanitation Program at all facilities and 16 playgrounds
  • State-of-the-art waterpark and amphitheater under construction at International Park
  • Preparing for 2021 national accreditation process
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