Clayton County Sheriff Kem Kimbrough was a no-show at a Thursday night community forum billed as the last "showdown" among candidates in some of the region's more heated runoff races.
Kimbrough's absence caps off a tough week for the incumbent, whose office is trying to explain the death of an inmate as Kimbrough fends off accusations of sexual misconduct and other misdeeds. The forum came just days before Clayton voters decide on a slew of contentious runoff races that could dramatically reshape the county's political landscape.
Forum organizer Pat Pullar, a political consultant, called Kimbrough's absence a "missed opportunity."
"It's unfortunate he didn't join us tonight and take the hard questions," Pullar said. The forum, held at Carl Rhodenizer Recreation Center in Rex, drew nearly 200 people.
Challenger Victor Hill, a former Clayton sheriff who is facing 37 felony charges ranging from racketeering to witness tampering, at one point drew laughter when asked what he planned to do on his first day in office. Hill marked his first day in office in 2004 by firing 27 deputies, a decision that cost county taxpayers millions. "I'm vowing to you I'll not make those mistakes again," he said. If elected, Hill promised that "nobody will be getting fired for a while."
In addition to the sheriff's race, the forum highlighted candidates for county commission chair (incumbent Eldrin Bell and ex-Clayton Police Chief Jeff Turner); District 3 commission seat (incumbent Wole Ralph and attorney Shana Rooks) as well as the 44th District state Senate seat (incumbent Gail Davenport and Gail Buckner)and the state House of Representatives slot for District 63 (T.J. Copeland and Ronnie Mabra).
Several candidates promised to look at options for restoring bus service in the county, and accountability was a recurring theme.
"It's time for a change in Clayton County. We've been stagnate too long. It's time to say stop the bleeding," Turner said. "It's time to make sure our elected officials are held accountable. We can't afford to continue to do what we've been doing."
Bell said he would push for more business investment around Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, a major source of tax revenue for the county. Kimbrough wasn't the only no-show. Mabra failed to show as well.