Gwinnett commission candidates face off on transit, economy in forum

Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. AJC FILE PHOTO

Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. AJC FILE PHOTO

What’s the most pressing issue facing Gwinnett County?

Depending on the candidate, it’s aging infrastructure, public safety or the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic — or a combination of those issues.

Six candidates for the Gwinnett County commission spoke about their views for the county’s future at a Tuesday forum sponsored by the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce. Over an hour, Republicans and Democrats vying for commission chairman and two other seats on the board talked about transit, economic development and why each thinks they’re the best person for the job.

In the chairman’s race, Republican David Post will face Democrat Nicole Love Hendrickson on the ballot in November.

Post, who said the safety of residents is his top priority, said the community prospers when residents feel secure. He described himself more as pro-citizen than pro-business, and said with the number of people who lost their jobs this year, “I don’t believe we’re in a position to vote yes” on the transit referendum that will also be on the November ballot.

“It’s going to be another tax,” he said. “You can’t just pile another tax on people.”

Hendrickson said voting for transit will lead to more growth, and economic development will follow investments the county makes. She’s also in favor of creating more tax allocation districts and other venues for jump-starting development. But Hendrickson said she remains concerned about the county’s recovery from the pandemic, especially as more residents move in. The county needs smart growth, she said, to manage transportation and housing needs.

“The Gwinnett we’re experiencing today is the Gwinnett that was decided on 30 years ago from visionary leaders,” she said. “We have to be visionary, we have to be bold, we have to plan for our future.”

In the District 1 race, Republican Laurie McClain and Democrat Kirkland Carden will be on the ballot.

McClain said the county’s infrastructure needs to be improved, as much of it was built before an influx of residents that led to more than 936,000 people calling the county home. She said the “debacle” that is Gwinnett Place Mall is one of her priorities. She is also in favor of tax programs to help increase development. But McClain, who headed up the county’s Transit Review Committee, called heavy rail “old, antiquated technology” and said she plans to vote against the transit plan that will be on the ballot.

Carden said the county needs to be proactive about its response to the coronavirus pandemic and the economic fallout of it. The increased expenses and lost jobs will have an impact on the county, he said. Carden said waiving or reducing some business fees in the short term could help with that recovery, as could building out the transit system. He also said if elected, he would make improvements to Gwinnett Place Mall a priority and said he would consider purchasing the property.

Republican Ben Archer and Democrat Jasper Watkins will face off in the District 3 race.

Archer said he thinks the recently announced Rowen project will be a game-changer in the county. He thinks the infrastructure needs to be improved as well, but said he won’t be voting for transit, calling it “a hard sell for our area.” Archer said he plans to work with the Chamber to improve economic development opportunities. He said he loves the county and is passionate about trying to move Gwinnett forward.

Watkins said cultivating opportunities for small businesses is of the utmost importance to him, and he wants to diversify the business landscape, including with a minority entrepreneur program. He said the current transit plan doesn’t offer a lot for his district, but he still plans to vote for it.

“I’m going to lead,” he said. “We need strong leadership, and that’s what I bring to the table.”