Legislators reject Gwinnett bills to raise chair’s salary, remake elections board

Rep. Sam Park, D-Lawrenceville, called Republican legislators "hypocritical" for voting down local Gwinnett legislation.(Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com) AJC FILE PHOTO



Rep. Sam Park, D-Lawrenceville, called Republican legislators "hypocritical" for voting down local Gwinnett legislation.(Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com) AJC FILE PHOTO

State legislators on Monday voted down three Gwinnett County bills, two of which would have remade the county’s elections board and one that would have nearly doubled the commission chairwoman’s salary.

Furious Democrats called the move “hypocritical” after state officials voted to reconstitute elections boards in other counties with Republican majorities, but refused to do so in Gwinnett, which is led by Democrats for the first time in more than 30 years.

And they questioned why colleagues were voting down a raise for the chairwoman, Nicole Love Hendrickson, whom local Democrats and Republicans alike agree should make more money, as do her peers.

Rep. Jasmine Clark, D-Lilburn, said the decision not to approve Hendrickson’s raise, to $143,455 from $74,266 a year, “perpetuates systemic racism.” She questioned whether the no votes stemmed from a “desire to keep the first Black woman ever elected Gwinnett chairwoman severely underpaid.”

The raise would have given the chairwoman the same salary as the county sheriff, and also tie future pay increases to those of the sheriff.

But Rep. Tom Kirby, R-Loganville, said pay raises typically don’t go into effect until after the next election. While local leaders could vote to raise Hendrickson’s salary, so the raise goes into effect in 2022, state lawmakers have the ability to put it into action sooner.

“It’s a sad day in Georgia when the state body takes control of the local body,” said Rep. Dewey McClain, D-Lawrenceville.

Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta, said she planned to ask the legislature to reconsider the proposals Tuesday.

But local Republicans are among the dissenters.

In addition to Kirby’s comments about pay, Republican lawmakers expressed concern that the board of commissioners would have too much power over the elections board under the proposal that was voted down.

Now, Democrats and Republicans alike appoint two members while a fifth, nonpartisan member is selected by the other members.

The proposal to reconstitute the board would require the executive committees of both the Republican and Democratic parties to submit three names to the county commission within 30 days of there being an opening on the board. Commissioners would appoint two people from each list.

If no lists are submitted, commissioners could appoint whoever they wanted. A fifth member of the board would be appointed by the commission without regard to party.

If the county leadership fails to appoint someone within 60 days of an opening, the chief Superior Court judge would appoint members.

Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, said at a legislative delegation meeting earlier in the month that he was concerned that the election board’s makeup was being changed only because Democrats took control of the county commission for the first time in decades. He pushed for changes that would “stand the test of time” and proposed having a nonpartisan elected official, like a judge, appoint the fifth member.

Rep. Sam Park, D-Lawrenceville and chair of the local delegation, said lawmakers were “hypocritical” when they voted down the proposals, 97-70. The decision “demonstrates a lack of ethics,” he said, calling other proposals that had passed the state body “hyper-partisan, undemocratic power grabs.”

Legislators wanted to remake the county’s elections board after questioning whether it was constitutional. The question came up after the current chair, Alice O’Lenick, was quoted in the Gwinnett Daily Post saying she was “like a dog with a bone” in her focus on changing some elections laws, including those regulating absentee by mail voting and ballot drop boxes.

“They don’t have to change all of them, but they’ve got to change the major parts of them so that we at least have a shot at winning,” she said at a Republican Party meeting.