Embattled Gwinnett County Commissioner Tommy Hunter left another board meeting early Tuesday night, ducking out before protesters lined up yet again to denounce his controversial Facebook posts.
For the second straight meeting, they carried on without him — but there were plenty of fireworks, and a bit of Atlanta-related intrigue, before he left, too.
As the regular business of the 7 p.m. meeting took place and the other 50 or so gathered protesters waited for the open comment period, Teddy Murphy — a young, vocal member of the Gwinnett County Democratic Party — took the opportunity to speak during the public hearing for every proposed development or rezoning in Hunter’s district. Hunter has been under fire since writing a Jan. 14 Facebook post calling civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis a “racist pig” and referring to Democrats as “Demonrats.”
As Murphy spoke at length about a senior living development proposed near Snellville, Commissioner John Heard decided he’d heard enough.
He said Murphy “making a mockery” of the process was making both the county and Murphy himself “liable” if the board’s decisions were challenged in court. Millions of dollars were involved in the proposals, Heard said.
“You’re wading into a deep, deep, deep pond,” he said.
There was an uproar from the protesters gathered in the auditorium, and Murphy responded by attacking Hunter.
“We have a complete and total racist that is on this Board of Commissioners,” Murphy said.
Board Chairman Charlotte Nash pounded her gavel to quiet the crowd, saying the meeting at that point was “not just about one individual on the board” but “the appropriate legal procedure that has to be followed.”
“It’s going to be like this,” he said. “... I would not be here today if Commissioner Hunter did not call John Lewis a racist pig.”
Tuesday’s meeting came a week after Hunter suddenly left a Board of Commissioners meeting just as protesters were beginning to speak during a public comment period. Hunter’s camp said he had a “business appointment” that day but added that he planned to skip out on public comment periods going forward because the protesters were “taking away from other individuals who have other concerns.”
Hunter indeed left Tuesday night’s meeting early, with several agenda items and the open public comment period still remaining.
Shortly after Hunter left, the board adopted several tweaks to the county’s ethics ordinance. Among the changes was an addition of language that would allow the ethics board to hear multiple “like” complaints at the same time.
The ethics board is in the process of being formed for the first time ever to hear an ethics complaint filed against Hunter.
Protesters spoke for more than an hour after the public comment period finally began around 9:15 p.m.
“[Hunter] is like a little kid who throws a rock, and when it hits something, he hides his hands,” one regular protester, Phyllis Richardson, said.
The words were followed with a familiar chant of “Hunter must go.”
Just before Tuesday night’s meeting, a different kind of protest was attempted.
Signs reading “Kasim Reed Needs to Resign” were spotted on several seats throughout the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center auditorium. The signs referencing the mayor of Atlanta were then picked up by two men who declined to identify themselves to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution photographer.
The men were not believed to be county employees and Seth Weathers, a spokesman for Hunter, later said he wasn’t responsible for placing the signs. Weathers has been engaged in a war of words with Reed since last week, when the mayor sent a letter to United Consulting inquiring about Hunter’s employment status.
Hunter is a vice president of business development for the engineering firm, which also does business with the city of Atlanta. Reed’s letter denounced Hunter’s Facebook comments and asked United Consulting to inform him how they were going to “resolve this matter.””
On Tuesday afternoon, Weathers called Reed’s letter “the definition of corruption.”
“Yesterday, he confirmed his letter was in fact about the employment of my client,” Weathers said. “Is he so blinded by power that he doesn't realize threatening the loss of city contracts, if his personal demands aren't met, is the definition of corruption? It's time for the proper authorities to investigate this matter. Kasim should flip on his blue lights and rush to his attorney.”
A spokesperson for the mayor declined to comment on Weathers’ newest statements.
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