Day of ‘reckoning’ — or vindication — on tap in Gwinnett’s ‘racist pig’ case

Gwinnett County Commissioner Tommy Hunter during a February meeting. CURTIS COMPTON/CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Gwinnett County Commissioner Tommy Hunter during a February meeting. CURTIS COMPTON/CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

In the week or so that online comments were solicited, roughly 330 people shared their thoughts on the ethics complaint pending against Gwinnett County Commissioner Tommy Hunter.

On Tuesday, Hunter's colleagues will make their own thoughts on the matter known — by deciding, once and for all, if he should be punished for his divisive social media activity.

The ethics complaint filed Feb. 6 argued that, with Facebook posts like his now-infamous one calling civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis a "racist pig," the commissioner violated multiple tenets of the county's 2011 ethics ordinance. The ethics board assembled to investigate the complaint agreed with that assessment earlier this month, recommending the stiffest penalty available to county commissioners — that Hunter be publicly reprimanded.

That reprimand would involve posting a written rebuke on the county's website, on the wall of its courthouse and in the local newspaper.

Commission Chair Charlotte Nash said she expects her board to vote on the matter during a public hearing scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. One hour has been set aside for public comment in support of the ethics board’s recommendation and one hour for those against.

A significant number of anti-Hunter protesters is likely to be present. Detractors have attended every Board of Commissioners meeting since Jan. 17, the board’s first gathering after Hunter’s post about Lewis.

Activist Donna McLeod called Tuesday’s hearing a “day of reckoning.”

“We need to pack the auditorium with those who are in favor of the ethics panel’s recommendations, even those who do not wish to speak,” McLeod wrote in an email to supporters. “This will be a great opportunity to send a message both visually and verbally to hold Tommy Hunter accountable.”

Gabe Okoye, the chairman of the Gwinnett County Democratic Party, said he wants to “see justice done.” Protesters have long called for Hunter’s resignation or ouster but Okoye said that, if the Board of Commissioners follows the ethics panel’s recommendation, their efforts would be worthwhile.

“If we get the maximum out of a process, that’s a resounding success in my opinion,” he said.

Seth Weathers, Hunter’s political consultant and spokesman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. He has previously called Gwinnett’s ethics board “entirely unconstitutional.”

That argument is also one basis for a lawsuit filed by Hunter's attorney, Dwight Thomas. The suit, which argues counties shouldn't use private entities to make ethics boards appointments, is still being litigated and could eventually effect whatever decision is reached Tuesday.

Thomas has also tried to frame the ethics complaint against Hunter as a First Amendment issue.

“I think it will be setting a dangerous precedent for (the Board of Commissioners) to do anything,” he said.