In her state of the county address Thursday, Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash spoke of giving residents the chance to vote on bringing more robust transit options to their community.
She touted her county’s “starring role” in Georgia’s recent water wars court victory.
And she also offered some not-so-veiled commentary on the controversy currently swirling around Tommy Hunter — her commission colleague who last month called civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis a “racist pig” on Facebook.
“Inclusion does not just happen. It takes intentional effort,” Nash said in front of the hundreds of business and community leaders gathered in a ballroom at Duluth’s Infinite Energy Center. “Let me be perfectly clear: Failure to respect all Gwinnettians and welcome their participation in our community is neither acceptable nor smart.”
The chairman, who sent a letter personally apologizing to Lewis the day after Hunter’s controversial Jan. 14 Facebook post came to light, never mentioned Hunter by name during Thursday’s address. But she went on to tout several efforts the county already has underway to improve community outreach, then added that “there’s more to do, as recent events have shown.”
“I have made a personal commitment to seek ways to increase my own understanding of varied racial and cultural backgrounds,” Nash said. “I believe that my fellow commissioners will do the same.”
Hunter, who has apologized for the “choice of words” in his ill-fated Facebook post, was among those attending the event. He declined to speak with a reporter afterward.
Overall, Nash’s 20-minute speech took a positive tone. She boasted about Gwinnett’s prestigious Triple-AAA bond rating, its educational offerings and its “unmatched stewardship of water resources.”
“Our good work in this area played a starring role in the state’s case that led to Judge Lancaster’s ruling that was announced Tuesday,” Nash said.
Ralph Lancaster, the special master overseeing years-long litigation between Georgia and Florida, recommended Tuesday that the U.S. Supreme Court reject proposed limits on Georgia’s water consumption. Gwinnett County draws billions of gallons of water each year from Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River, which are at the center of that case.
The county treats much of the water it consumes and returns it to the lake.
Nash also focused for several minutes on the future of transit in Gwinnett, saying the county will begin its “comprehensive transit development planning process” sometime in the next 90 days.
It’s a study that’s mandatory to be eligible for federal funding, but also one that Nash called a “critical step” toward her “goal to give Gwinnett voters a chance to vote, yea or nay, on transit improvements based on accurate information and ample discussion.”
Nash said after her address that doesn’t expect any kind of transit vote to take place in 2017. The results of the study and any legislation to come out of the General Assembly would shape what kind of options are presented.
“Expanded transit options must … be part of any long-term solution,” Nash said.
A handful of officials from throughout the county applauded the chairman’s speech Thursday. They praised its content and its upbeat nature, even when it addressed otherwise sensitive topics — like the Hunter controversy.
“I loved how there are already things in place” promoting inclusiveness in the county, said Lawrenceville City Manager Chuck Warbington. “So highlighting that in her state of the county was, even without some of the events that are going on, I think that would’ve been appropriate anyway.”
Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson said Nash was “as direct as she could possibly be” on the Hunter issue.
“I think she hit the nail on the head,” he said.