First time in weeks, Gwinnett leader stays for ‘racist pig’ protests

Gwinnett County Commissioner Tommy Hunter, far right, and his colleagues listen Tuesday afternoon as protester Susan Clymer addresses the board. TYLER ESTEP / TYLER.ESTEP@AJC.COM

Gwinnett County Commissioner Tommy Hunter, far right, and his colleagues listen Tuesday afternoon as protester Susan Clymer addresses the board. TYLER ESTEP / TYLER.ESTEP@AJC.COM

For nearly an hour Tuesday, embattled Gwinnett County Commissioner Tommy Hunter sat quietly as protesters took turns chiding him.

The protesters have been a steady presence since mid-January — but Tuesday marked the first time in a month that Hunter did not leave a meeting early to avoid them.

“I’m glad you stayed here today,” one regular protester, Art Smith, said. “[Leaving] only inflames the situation and prolongs it.”

Hunter, who represents District 3, has been under fire since The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first published screenshots of a Jan. 14 Facebook post in which he called civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis a "racist pig." He also referred to Democrats as "Demonrats" and a "bunch of idiots."

The post was written amid a feud between Lewis and then-president-elect Donald Trump, sparked when Lewis suggested Trump was not a “legitimate” president.

Hunter has apologized for his "choice of words" in his post about Lewis but, through a spokesman, has repeatedly said he won't resign.

During the first several board meetings after his posts were brought to light, Hunter sat through the open public comment periods that protesters have used to shout him down. But at the board's Feb. 21 meeting, Hunter left just as the protesters lined up to speak against him . His spokesman later claimed the protests were a distraction from other matters.

Hunter missed last week’s meeting entirely and had left early from every other meeting in the last month — until Tuesday. After the board handled a short business meeting that involved several high-profile contracts, he remained in his seat for the entire time protesters spoke against him.

While many of the protesters said they were glad Hunter had decided to stick around, the tone was not a forgiving one.

“We’re not gonna get over it,” Lawrenceville resident Doris Moore said. “The president of our great nation is setting a poor example. He has given you permission to say whatever you want. But you know what? He’s going to go. And you’re going to go.”

Hunter declined to speak to a reporter afterward. His spokesman, Seth Weathers, did not immediately return requests for comment.

Board Chairman Charlotte Nash said she was “proud” that Hunter stayed.

“I think it’s an appropriate thing for him to do to be at the meeting,” she said.

Prior to Tuesday's protests, the board voted to award a contract of nearly $132 million to Alberici Constructors, Inc., who will undertake a five-year project to renovate and upgrade the county's Crooked Creek Water Reclamation Facility . The facility in Peachtree Corners treats about 16 million gallons of wastewater a day before returning it to county waterways.

The board also awarded Kimley-Horn and Associates a contract of more than $767,000 to complete the county's comprehensive transit development plan . The plan will examine short-, medium- and long-term options for improving Gwinnett County's transit offerings.

Nash said the transit development plan will be placed on a "very aggressive" schedule and she hopes it will be completed by the end of the year. She has said she wants the county to have a referendum on transit expansion , possibly as soon as 2018.

Commissioners also approved Tuesday a $23.2 million contract to cover road resurfacing projects throughout the county. Department of Transportation director Alan Chapman said that figure will allow the county to resurface about 35 percent more roads than it did last year.