House runoff features Vernon Jones and challenger Rhonda Taylor

Vernon Jones tells voters he’s the natural choice to take the Georgia House District 91 seat. He’s been there before, and he later served as DeKalb County’s CEO for eight years.

But it’s his experience that opponent Rhonda Taylor paints as his biggest liability. She says voters have seen how Jones governs, which should be enough to prevent his return to public office.

Jones and Taylor, a legal support consultant, will face off in Tuesday’s runoff election for the district that covers southeast DeKalb and parts of Rockdale County.

Jones almost won the Democratic primary election in May outright. He fell 60 votes, or about 1 percent, short of a majority that would have allowed him to avoid a runoff. Taylor came in second with 26 percent of the vote.

Taylor said she hopes to close the gap by highlighting her volunteer work in the community, compared with Jones’ past.

“I’m for the people, not the position,” Taylor said. “I shake to think what could possibly happen if he gets in there.”

Jones, who left public office in 2008, has said he’s proud of his record and knowledge of government, having served as both a legislator and a chief executive.

When Jones was last in the Georgia House, from 1993 to 2001, he worked on PeachCare, the state insurance program for children of the working poor. As DeKalb’s CEO, he said he gained expertise in transportation, budgeting and policing.

“I would hit the ground running on Day 1,” Jones said at a July 9 candidate forum recorded by On Common Ground News. “Our biggest challenge is leadership, so I want to bring both sides together, both parties. Most of the issues being discussed are those that divide us, not unite us, and that’s where leadership comes in.”

Jones didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.

Taylor said she has worked for the Democratic Party, the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, the National Women’s History Project and other organizations. She said she would emphasize education, public safety and economic development if she’s elected.

“I’ve been entrenched in the community,” Taylor said. “I understand what their needs are, as opposed to someone who’s been idle for almost 10 years and we’ve never seen him.”

She said she’d be coming into office “scandal-free,” while Jones faced several controversies during his time in office.

Taylor mailed a campaign flier criticizing Jones and citing corruption in the DeKalb Department of Watershed Management under his administration, $4 million in settlements in a racial discrimination lawsuit that accused him of targeting white managers, and $7,500 in fines levied against him in 2005 for campaign fundraising violations.

Jones hasn’t been charged with a crime, and DeKalb District Attorney Robert James said in April there wasn’t evidence to bring charges against Jones or eight other people targeted for further investigation by a special grand jury.

Jones has unsuccessfully run for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and county sheriff since finishing his second term as DeKalb’s CEO in 2008. If elected, Jones said he would work to secure state funding to reduce transportation gridlock and improve public safety.

“I can provide some solutions. I can bring people together and work toward a better Georgia,” Jones said at the July 9 debate. “My leadership and experience — it does make a difference.”

The winner of the runoff will face Republican Carl Anuszczyk in the November general election.

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