Gwinnett leaders sell bonds for mall purchase, agree to give chairwoman a raise

Aerial photo shows Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth. Gwinnett commissioners on Tuesday agreed to let bonds to buy the mall. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com) AJC FILE PHOTO

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Aerial photo shows Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth. Gwinnett commissioners on Tuesday agreed to let bonds to buy the mall. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com) AJC FILE PHOTO

Gwinnett County Commissioners Tuesday agreed to issue $23.5 million in bonds to finance their purchase of Gwinnett Place Mall.

The bond sale, which will be done through the county’s Urban Redevelopment Agency, will cost $1.45 million a year through 2041 with a 2.11% interest rate. Gwinnett County is scheduled to close on the purchase March 11.

Commissioners on Tuesday also approved measures that asked state legislators to nearly double the salary of the commission chairwoman, and agreed to support a proposal that would change how members of the county’s elections board are selected.

The 39 acres the county is buying at I-85 and Pleasant Hill Road near Duluth includes Gwinnett Place’s interior, among other land.

Three anchor tenants remain: Macy’s, Beauty Master and MegaMart. Each of those anchors own their own property and will not be part of the sale. Additionally, the former Sears property is owned by a developer, Northwood Ravin.

Plans for the mall are not yet known.

The commission chairwoman’s salary increase would be equal that of the county sheriff, Keybo Taylor, who makes $143,455 a year. Currently, Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson makes $74,266.06 a year, with an additional $1,200 available for training.

Commissioners are asking the state legislature to take action to increase Hendrickson’s salary. Rep. Sam Park, D-Lawrenceville and the chair of the Gwinnett County delegation, was supportive.

He and others said the chairwoman is underpaid compared to other constitutional officers in Gwinnett and other heads of government in metro Atlanta.

The county’s proposal would tie the chair’s salary to that of the sheriff, which is set by state formula and based on population.

“This is not about me,” Hendrickson said. “This is about the position.”

The measure passed unanimously.

Commissioner Kirkland Carden said Gwinnett is the second-largest service provider in Georgia, behind the state itself. Hendrickson helms a county of nearly 1 million people with a $1.91 billion budget.

He called the pay for her position “inadequately low” and said the change would make compensation appropriate.

Commissioner Ben Ku said fixing the chair’s salary to that of the sheriff would keep commissioners from having to continue voting for raises in years to come. He added, too, that the chair’s salary could fall if Gwinnett’s population dropped and the sheriff’s did, as well.

County commissioners could vote for a raise, but it wouldn’t be enacted until after the November 2022 election. By asking the legislature to take up the measure, the raise could go into effect more quickly.

The board last approved a raise for the commission chair in 2007. The former chairman, Charlotte Nash, rejected a proposed pay increase because she was also collecting a county pension. At the time, Nash was making $58,342 a year. It’s not clear when or how the chair’s salary increased by nearly $16,000.

Gwinnett leaders on Tuesday also signaled their support for remaking the county’s elections board in a 4-1 vote, with Carden dissenting.

Now, the board is made up of two Republicans and two Democrats, each appointed by the party, and an independent, chosen by all five. Under the new proposal, each party would submit the names of five people to the board of commissioners, who would pick two from each party. A fifth person would be selected by the board of commissioners.

The move comes after the chair, Republican Alice O’Lenick, came under fire for politicized statements she made about voting at a Republican Party meeting. That led to questions about whether the appointment system was constitutional, since elected officials weren’t naming members.

Carden said he didn’t think the current proposal went far enough.

“I think this would be a step backwards,” he said, after commissioners worked to diversify how they made appointments to local boards. “I have deep concerns.”