New Gwinnett leader, in first major speech, signals her way forward

03/03/2021 —Lawrenceville, Georgia — Gwinnett County Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson makes remarks during the Gwinnett County State of the County address at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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03/03/2021 —Lawrenceville, Georgia — Gwinnett County Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson makes remarks during the Gwinnett County State of the County address at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Nicole Love Hendrickson, Gwinnett County’s first Black chairwoman and the first Democrat to helm county government in more than 30 years, wanted business leaders to know she isn’t going to overhaul the Gwinnett they know.

But she is going to work to ensure local government helps more people — particularly those who have been underserved before.

In her first State of the County address Wednesday, Hendrickson relied on the Gwinnett Standard to indicate to the 545 people in attendance — and 210 more watching online — that she understands people have certain expectations in Gwinnett.

Calling attendees standard bearers, Hendrickson alluded to the sense of Gwinnett exceptionalism that many residents share.

“What’s normal here would be amazing almost anyplace else,” Hendrickson said. “And what’s ordinary in Gwinnett is extraordinary elsewhere.”

She mentioned the county’s strong finances, its history of ambitious water projects, its well-regarded parks system and its continued focus on economic development.

But Hendrickson also told attendees that there is more to do. While praising the county’s police department, she said crime prevention must be emphasized.

“Many factors that are linked to crime — factors like poverty, substance abuse, mental health challenges and lack of education — can and should be addressed before a crime is ever committed,” she said. “So as we work to ensure police accountability, we must also make intentional investments in policies and programs that address these systemic issues.”

She added, too, that new residents from around the world “bring a constant pulse of new ideas and innovations” that continue to provide opportunities for growth.

“Gwinnett displays excellence in so many ways, but that doesn’t mean we’ve always achieved perfection,” Hendrickson said. “There are injustices and inequities in our community that we must tackle with the same resolve and standards we use to address challenges like water quality and public safety.

“My fellow commissioners and I recognize that there’s still work to be done in many areas to create a more equitable and just Gwinnett.”

Nick Masino, president and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the event along with the Council for Quality Growth, said he was impressed by Hendrickson’s efforts to highlight the ways in which the community can continue to work together.

“She did a wonderful job of paying homage to the past and challenging us for the future,” Masino said. “Whoever you were and what you were listening for, you probably heard that.”

Jerri Sumlin, a Fulton County resident who does business in Gwinnett, said she walked away from Hendrickson’s speech “feeling truly inspired and motivated by her vision.”

“She spoke as if she truly has the best interests of every person at heart,” Sumlin said. “It gave me hope. I walked away feeling positive about the future.”

And Matthew Holtkamp, a Buford resident who has a heating and air conditioning business in Suwanee, said he was glad to hear Hendrickson addressing the needs of minority communities that may not have been prioritized before.

He said her speech made him feel comfortable with the changes in county government — that Hendrickson’s focus would not be on dividing residents.

“The Gwinnett Standard is something that’s been part of Gwinnett’s DNA for 30 years now,” Holtkamp said. “She’s not throwing that out. She’s saying, look, we’re going to build on that. I just really felt very inspired and comforted by her leadership and knowing we’re in good hands going forward.”

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