The anti-Tommy Hunter protesters are tired. And they’re not afraid to admit it.
“We’re sick of coming,” one regular protester, Nancy Todd, said Tuesday.
Said another, Pat Lark: “It’s a beautiful day. I’d rather be outside.”
Exhaustion and frustration were running themes for the afternoon — but surrender was not.
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It’s now been nearly three months since Hunter, the commissioner for Gwinnett County’s District 3, wrote a Facebook post calling civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis a “racist pig.” In the same Jan. 14 post, he also referred to Democrats as “Demonrats” and “a bunch of idiots.”
Protesters have shown up at all 10 Board of Commissioners meetings since The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first published screenshots of the post on Jan. 16. They’ve spent hours and hours decrying Hunter’s comments, calling for his resignation and asking his colleagues to try and force him out.
The tenth meeting was Tuesday. And while the once massive group of weekly protesters has now, for the most part, waned to a steady collection of 15 or so regulars, the passion is still there.
Even if Hunter continues to leave meetings before their voices are heard.
“We get up, we talk to an empty chair, we don’t see any action coming out of the rest of the commissioners,” protester Michael Murphy-McCarthy said at Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s a question of how long must we come before something happens. But that’s what keeps me coming back.”
Hunter — who has apologized for the “choice of words” in his now infamous Facebook post but declined to step down — left Tuesday’s meeting just before the open public comment period, and the protests, started.
It’s a trend he initiated at the Board of Commissioners’ Feb. 21 gathering and has repeated at all but one meeting since. The commissioner’s spokesman, Seth Weathers, has called the protests a distraction from other county business.
Before Hunter departed Tuesday afternoon, the board approved nearly $3 million in county contracts, including a roughly $1.5 million plan for a sidewalk project on the western end of the county. The 1.4-mile sidewalk will run along Rockbridge Road in the Stone Mountain area, stretching between Five Forks-Trickum Road and E. Park Place Boulevard.
Gwinnett Department of Transportation director Alan Chapman said the sidewalk is intended to connect residential communities in the area to nearby businesses. It will be paid for by 2009 SPLOST funds.
The board also voted to repeal and replace the county’s animal ordinance, making the Gwinnett animal shelter’s move to the Community Services Department official. County officials announced last month that the shelter and the animal control unit would be removed from under the umbrella of the Gwinnett County Police Department, which had overseen those operations since 1993.
In addition to protests, Hunter and his Facebook activity are currently the subject of a formal county ethics complaint. That was filed Feb. 6 on behalf of an Atlanta woman named Nancie Turner, and the ethics board assembled to investigate the complaint had its first meeting March 31.
Hunter declined to make the ethics board appointment that’s afforded him, and it met with only four members.
The ethics ordinance, which covers all county employees and officials, technically grants the board the power to recommend penalties ranging from public reprimand to termination. But state law makes it nearly impossible to oust public officials from office unless criminal allegations are involved.
The county’s attorney has told the Board of Commissioners that they wouldn’t be able to remove Hunter from office, or even suspend him, if that’s what’s recommended.
“This is all that we can do,” Todd, the protester, said at Tuesday’s board meeting. “So that’s what we’re doing. We’re going to show up as many times as we can show up.”