John Eaves resigned Tuesday night as head of the Fulton County commission, qualifying on Wednesday morning to run for mayor of the city of Atlanta.
Eaves, who has led the county since 2007, left office with a year and four months remaining in his third term. In a letter to Vice Chairman Bob Ellis announcing his resignation, Eaves said he was saddened to close that chapter in his life but excited about the prospect of becoming mayor.
“I can look back and say, ‘Wow, we really accomplished a lot,’” Eaves said Wednesday afternoon. “I feel like I’ve done a damn good job in Fulton County.”
When Eaves joined the commission, Fulton was known for having a dysfunctional board, and many complained infighting kept the county from accomplishing much at all. Over Eaves’ tenure, the county commission mellowed, and relationships improved, both on the board and with the cities.
Fulton County became nearly fully municipalized — there is only a small stretch of land on Fulton Industrial Boulevard that is not inside one of Fulton’s 15 cities. And Eaves was an early voice in favor of restructuring the board of Grady Memorial Hospital, which helped keep it solvent. He also championed the transportation tax that voters approved last fall.
“I do think John has tried to build consensus among a fairly diverse board, representing a fairly diverse county,” said Ellis, who will act as county chairman until a new person is elected.
But Eaves has also feuded with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who last week berated the chairman’s leadership through a statement from Communications Director Anne Torres. The statement called Eaves’ time at the county’s helm a “consolation prize” for a lost city council race.
“The best part about him quitting his job as the quasi-leader of Fulton County is that he will no longer be involved in public service once he loses his ill-fated race for Mayor of Atlanta,” the statement said.
Wednesday, Jenna Garland, a spokesperson for Reed, said in an email, “We offer our congratulations to Mr. Eaves on his retirement from public service.”
Two people — former County Commissioner Robb Pitts and Sandy Springs City Councilman Gabriel Sterling — have already announced they intend to run for Eaves’ seat, which will be on the ballot in November. Pitts said he thinks the county needs a stronger leader who is proactive, while Sterling said the county’s next leader needs to “right-size” government to respond to the number of new cities.
Ellis said he thinks the next leader of Fulton County has to be a good collaborator, able to manage the many projects that are already in the works and capable of representing the entire county.
Because of Fulton’s size and position in the state, the new chairman “needs to play an active role in regional issues,” Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said in a statement.
“In my opinion, the next Fulton Commission chairman should strive to cultivate the improved working relationships to serve as the basis for additional progress,” Nash said.
In addition to Eaves, five other major candidates have qualified to run for mayor in November: Atlanta City Councilwoman Mary Norwood, Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, State Sen. Vincent Fort, Atlanta City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms and Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall.
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