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Clarkston celebrates diversity at swearing-in

Ken Watts | 1/10/2014, 6:11 a.m.
New Clarkston City Council member Ahmed Hassan receives the oath of office from Municipal Court Judge Stephen Nichols.

New Clarkston Mayor Edward “Ted” Terry, new City Council member Ahmed Hassan and incumbent Dean Moore were sworn into office on Jan. 7 before an enthusiastic crowd of more than 200 residents.

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New Mayor Ted Terry and the council meet.

After Municipal Court Judge Stephen Nichols administered the oath of office to the three who were elected and re-elected in the Nov. 5 election, the crowd that included DeKalb Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton, who represents the area, state Sen. Steve Henson, state Rep. Michelle Henson, DeKalb Sheriff Thomas Brown and other elected officials broke into applause at the Clarkston Community Center.

The inauguration ceremony was historic for the city and its large immigrant population.

Hassan, who is from Somalia, is the first former refugee and new immigrant to take elective office in the city that is home to immigrants from more than 50 countries.

Robert Hogan, who also won a seat on the council, is ill and did not attend the ceremony. He will be sworn into office at a later date.

After the swearing-in ceremony, Hassan was elected vice mayor during a 30-minute work session. In Terry’s absence, he will run council meetings.

In his inaugural speech, Hassan said he hoped his rise to political prominence will inspire other immigrants, but he said that he is in office to serve all Clarkston residents.

“I can be the bridge connecting the immigrants to the larger community,” he said, “but everyone should commit to participating in our government and working to bring the change you want to see.”

He has more than 20 years of corporate and small-business experience, an M.B.A. in finance from Mercer University of Atlanta’s Stetson School of Business, and an M.A. in accounting and financial management from Keller Graduate School of Business.

Terry, who is holding elective office for the first time, is no stranger to politics.

He has a decade of public service experience working in nonprofit consulting for the Sierra Club and Human Rights Campaign, Environment Georgia, and the Clarkston Active Living Initiative.

He also worked on campaigns for state representatives, state senators, county commissioners, school board members, local officials and a U.S. congressman.

Terry said Tuesday that annexation is a top priority for Clarkston so that the city can bring the majority of its international population officially within the city’s boundaries.

“If you look at a map, you see the city has a total area of only 1.1 square mile,” Terry said after the meeting. “Most of our newcomers think they’re in the city, but technically they’re just outside our boundaries in the 30021 ZIP code.”

He said the city is hoping to get state authorities to extend its boundaries.

Terry said incorporating the neighborhoods would give the city code control over rundown apartment complexes that have become breeding grounds for crimes that spill into Clarkston.

Moore, who has been on the council for four years, echoed Hassan’s sentiments on citizen involvement in his speech.

He pointed to Clarkston’s proposed $6 million streetscape project that will transform the look of the city.

“We’re at a key moment in our history,” Moore said.

“We need volunteers to serve on advisory committees for planning, zoning and streets to make sure we’re getting citizen input every step of the way.”

With city business out of the way, the inauguration took on the look and feel of an international festival with folk dances by the Bhutanese Artists of Georgia, performances by Burmese singer Pan Ei San and the singing duo Aviva and Simon, and a poetry reading by Betty Amin. Percussionists Fred Kelly and Mark Poret played African drums, luring the crowd to the dance floor.

The new mayor – decked out in his “campaigning outfit” – red low-cut sneakers and a business suit – was right in the middle of the swirl of dancers, some of them dressed in traditional Somali garb.

“I’ll retire them [sneakers] after tonight,” Terry said.

“I wore them out in months of door-to-door campaigning. I think they’ve had it.