Tommy Hunter’s colleagues on the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to publicly reprimand him for his controversial social media activity.
The action comes more than four months since this political and legal saga began with a formal complaint filed by an Atlanta woman, and longer still since Hunter penned the now-infamous Facebook post — which called civil rights icon and U.S. Congressman John Lewis a "racist pig" and referred to Democrats as a "bunch of idiots."
The post made national headlines and its political fallout has disrupted one of Georgia’s largest and most diverse counties since mid-January.
“I have every confidence that Gwinnett County is stronger because of the differences we have, which don’t have to divide us,” a teary-eyed Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said before the county’s attorney read a resolution calling for the reprimand. “Those differences can be … the common ground.”
The commission’s 4-0 vote may not completely end the controversy. Hunter, who did not attend the meeting, has an active lawsuit against the county which challenges the constitutionality of the ethics board. Hunter’s detractors have floated the long-shot possibility of pursuing a recall election, too.
The commission’s decision came after a public hearing where anti-Hunter protesters spent the entirety of their allotted hour denouncing the commissioner. No Hunter supporters spoke and the announcement of his reprimand elicited a standing ovation from the crowd at the Gwinnett County Justice and Administration Center.
The public reprimand will include the posting a written rebuke of Hunter’s actions on the county’s website, on the wall of the courthouse, and in the county’s legal organ. Such a reprimand was the stiffest possible penalty outlined under the Gwinnett’s ethics ordinance.
“Mr. Hunter represents old Gwinnett,” Larry Jones, a protester, said last night. “We’re praying for a new Gwinnett.”
Christine Koehler and Helen Kim Ho, the local attorneys who filed the ethics complaint on behalf of Nancie Turner, coiuld not be reached Tuesday night.
Hunter's political consultant and spokesman, Seth Weathers, offered a lengthy statement via text message to the AJC.
“People are used to politicians caving to political correctness but tonight it reached a new level. Spineless politicians do spineless things,” Weathers said, in part. “Where is the public reprimand for Charlotte Nash, John Heard, Jace Brooks and Lynette Howard for their public disregard for the U.S. Constitution?”
The ethics complaint against Hunter was the first ever filed under Gwinnett's 2011 ethics ordinance, which was passed amid the fallout from a special grand jury investigation into controversial county land deals. That investigation, triggered by reporting by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, ultimately led to the departure or arrest of three members of the commission.
The ethics ordinance primarily focuses on public disclosures and conflicts of interest in county land purchases and other business dealings, but the complaint against Hunter took a slightly different approach.
It was filed Feb. 6, about three weeks after the commissioner’s Jan. 14 Facebook post about Lewis. The post was first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was made in the middle of a well-publicized feud between Lewis and then-president elect Donald Trump.
While the ethics complaint centered on the Lewis post, it also referenced Facebook missives in which Hunter urged “snowflakes” to “move along” if they were offended and another post where he suggested former presidential candidate Jill Stein be appointed “ambassador to Syria or Afghanistan or somewhere like that.”
The complaint also pointed to the commissioner’s use of the word “libtards,” a divisive term for liberals.
Hunter’s District 3 covers a large and racially diverse swath of southern and eastern Gwinnett. He narrowly won re-election over Democratic challenger Jasper Watkins in November.
Overall, Gwinnett is a majority-minority county. It voted for Hillary Clinton in November’s presidential election.
The ethics complaint against Hunter argued that his social media activity violated tenets of the ethics ordinance that urged commissioners not to engage in conduct unbecoming of their office and to put “loyalty to the highest moral principles” above loyalty to political party.
The ethics board agreed, voting on June 6 to recommend public reprimand.
The Board of Commissioners could have chosen to go a different direction Tuesday night. But after hearing from those in the audience — and mulling the 330 or so public comments submitted online last week, about two-thirds of which were pro-punishment — it opted to follow the ethics panel's suggestion.