ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Clayton “Earl” Mitchell Sr. served 13 years on the Alpharetta City Council – but it was at a time when the city could have chosen to be conservative and remained a small town somewhere north of Atlanta. Or it could choose to be something else.
Mr. Mitchell served at a time when the choice for Alpharetta was that “something else.”
When Mr. Mitchell joined the City Council in 1983, Alpharetta was a much smaller place than it is today, a bustling city of nearly 60,000 people.
But in 1983, Alpharetta was a small town of 13,000 people, one traffic light and no commercial development to speak of. It took a great deal of imagination and determination to visualize what sort of city Alpharetta could become.
He was part of the team led by Mayor Jimmy Phillips and Community Development Director Marie Garrett that foresaw what Alpharetta could become – one the leading technological cities with 18 million square feet of Class A office space, wired with fiber-optic cable and a direct major highway to the busiest international airport in the world.
The City Council of Mr. Mitchell’s era laid the groundwork for the 21st century city that Alpharetta was to become. That included creating a land use plan that provided for the office space and the regional mall that are the city’s hallmarks.
Along Ga. 400 there are undisturbed setbacks, so that entering the city via Ga. 400 there is a transition. Also, there are no commercial businesses or convenience stores at any of the city’s gateway exits. This was all planned years in advance of the onset of the development of the city.
Mr. Mitchell died Nov. 12, 2012, after a long illness. A lifelong Fulton County resident, he and wife Matilda moved to Roswell in 1963 and to Alpharetta in 1977.
His colleague on council and later Mayor Arthur Letchas described Mr. Mitchell as the model of what “a politician should be.”
“He ran for office for the right reasons. He wanted to make Alpharetta a better place,” Letchas said. “He really loved this city. He was a good person, and I’m going to miss him.”
“With the help of Marie Garrett, a lot of good things were happening at that time that would later put Alpharetta on a good foundation,” Letchas said.
Mr. Mitchell was always professional in his approach to city service. According to Letchas he did the little things that really meant a lot as a councilman.
“He was always for each meeting. We had lengthy packets to read each week, and he was always thoroughly briefed. If there was a rezoning, he had walked the property,” Letchas said.
He would attend the other city meetings including the Planning Commission and Recreation Commission to have all of the information at hand.
“He was always well prepared as a councilman,” Letchas said.
Mr. Mitchell also had a love of sports and a soft spot for the Recreation Department. So he was always a supporter of those efforts, according to the city Recreation Director Mike Perry.
“He was my first council liaison when I came here in 1991,” Perry said. “With Jim Paine as Recreation Commission Chairman and Earl as liaison, I think I had a pretty good team to build what we have today.
“Earl loved kids, loved sports – and he sure loved baseball. He was just a great man for this city. He always went to bat for us.”
Perry recalled Mr. Mitchell did not think there was any meeting that could not be improved by having it around a meal.
“We got a lot accomplished around a dinner table.”
And there were not many places in Atlanta he did not know where to find the best barbecue. Perry recalled how Mr. Mitchell took him into Atlanta one day near the federal prison to eat at Harold’s Barbecue.
“It was well worth the trip. But I know I couldn’t find it again. It was out near the state pen is all I remember. But he believed work got done better if we broke bread over it,” Perry recalled.
Mr. Mitchell played a major role in shaping the city, especially the Recreation Department, Perry said.
“He was a sweet man, and a gentle man. I will miss him,” he said.