CONYERS -- More than two years after the election of its first black commissioner and chairman, the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners is still dealing with issues of race in the county government.
Brian Jenkins, Rockdale resident and candidate for BOC chairman, spoke during the public comment section of Tuesday's meeting in response to comments Chairman Richard Oden made regarding an inquiry by Rockdale resident Sam Smiley into the progress made by Finance Director Roselyn Miller on her college degree.
Jenkins' comments also looked at the racial division in the county.
"We need to stop this division of pitting whites against blacks and blacks against whites," Jenkins said.
Josie Dean, another member of the community, also spoke about race, springboarding off of the opening of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C., Monday.
Dean recalled meeting King as a young girl and said she was an activist for people's rights.
"We don't have enough black people in power now so they can change this stuff. Martin Luther King died to make sure that people like me can stand up here," Dean said.
Dean also said the death of King did not kill his dream, and that people should not "play the race card."
"I will not play the race card," she said. "When you get up and stand up for what is right, you don't have to play the race card."
NAACP member Jacquiline Johnson-Dickson spoke on behalf of the NAACP in relation to "inclusion."
"I have noticed when attending government meetings, the audience lacks inclusion," Johnson-Dickson said. "Where are the young in school, the Hispanic or Asians? Where are those who are physically handicapped and mentally challenged?"
"We must open the government process to all groups," she continued.
Johnson-Dickson said the county was changing demographically and it needed to work to help its citizens understand and accept that change.
Commissioner JaNice Van Ness also spoke on the subject of race and racial inclusion during the board comment section of Tuesday's meeting.
"I know the NAACP works on behalf of many people in our community and across the nation. I know they work to fight social injustice. I take that for all people," Van Ness said. "If we want to really be unified, we need to stop looking at people's skin color and look at the people."
Van Ness said Rockdale County was home to many highly educated and intelligent people and that the county would always be fair in its hiring practices.
"I'm very proud of the appointments that we've made recently," Van Ness said in reference to the appointments of Darryl Bowie and Franklin Wilson as the new director of Human Resources and chief of Fire and Rescue, respectively. "I hope we will continue to focus on the quality someone brings to the table."
Smiley's question concerned Ross' appointment as the county's finance director in 2009. She was interim director for seven months following the resignation of former county finance director Mia Wilson in December 2008. Miller was named finance director after Bobby E. Young, a former vice president of finance at Clark Atlanta University, withdrew from the job shortly after being announced as the county's candidate.
At the time, Miller held an associate's degree and was working to complete course work for a four-year bachelor's degree from Georgia State University.
Miller's appointment was met with criticism. Miller, who is black, was chosen over Linda Nabors, who has a college degree and is white. The county government also went through a revision of job descriptions that year for director-level positions that emphasized a four-year college degree or higher as a requirement.
Oden defended Miller and noted she guided the finance department through a difficult time in 2009 and cutting $1.2 million from the budget that year. She oversaw more cuts last year as the county faced a drop in tax revenue caused from the economic recession.
Also, the finance department was also recognized in 2008 and 2009 by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA) with a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting.
Smiley's question was not answered directly during the meeting. Oden said in response that Miller was working hard on her degree.