In the more than three months since the controversial social media activity of colleague Tommy Hunter came to light, Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash has overseen a lot of tense and unusual meetings.
Tuesday night’s gathering had both of those qualities — and ended with Nash and a horde of protesters gathering for an impromptu rap session.
Several protesters took turns decrying Hunter’s Facebook posts — including the Jan. 14 missive in which he called civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis a “racist pig” — during the meeting’s open public comment period before a new face walked to the podium. The man, Dennis Elm, defended Hunter and called his detractors, who have now attended 12 straight board meetings, “crybabies” and “rabble-rousers.” He, too, called Lewis racist.
“There’s a lot of people here that feel just like I do, but they haven’t got the guts to get up here and talk,” Elm said.
There was an uproar from the 30 or so protesters, and Nash had to repeatedly bang her gavel to bring them under control.
The meeting ended shortly after Elm left — and a large portion of the protesters immediately descended upon the dais where Nash and Commissioner Lynette Howard still sat. While fellow commissioners Jace Brooks and John Heard spoke with individual protesters, Nash and Howard addressed the larger crowd.
It's not unusual for commissioners to dish with constituents after meetings. But the size of Tuesday night's group was notable.
Nash stressed that there’s nothing forcing Hunter — who, like at almost every meeting since mid-February, left prior to the public comment period — to stay for entire meetings. She also reiterated that state law doesn’t allow board members to force a fellow commissioner out of office, even if they wanted to.
“I have a sense of the frustration,” Nash said. “I can’t say that I have walked in y’all’s shoes. I’m not even suggesting that. But I have a sense of the frustration. I’ve been listening to y’all come here, I’ve listened to people who have made separate appointments to come in an see me individually. I know that there’s a tremendous amount of frustration. But we have to work under the constraints of law.”
The chairman also emphasized that she and each of her fellow commissioners denounced Hunter’s comments in the days after they were first published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but said they’re limited in what they can say now because of the pending ethics complaint against Hunter. That complaint was filed Feb. 6 and claims that, with his post about Lewis and others, Hunter violated tenets of the county’s ethics ordinance.
“We can’t even give you an indication of what we’ve said privately,” Nash said.
The ethics board assembled to investigate the complaint held its first meeting on March 31, and Hunter now has until May 1 to file a formal response to the complaint.
The ethics board will meet again May 12.
Tuesday night, Nash was asked if she’d be making her thoughts about the Hunter situation known after the ethics complaint was resolved.
“I have a lot of things I’d like to say,” Nash said.