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Transit, finances among issues in Gwinnett Commission District 4 race

He touts his role in guiding Gwinnett County through the aftermath of both a recession and a corruption scandal. She pitches her fresh perspective and ability to relate to everyday people.

He’s a Republican vying for his third term on the County Commission. She’s a political newcomer who is trying to become the first black person ever on the Commission and the first Democrat in 32 years.

The battle for the Gwinnett County District 4 seat, which covers Lawrenceville and Buford, features stark contrasts in the candidates: incumbent John Heard and challenger Marlene Fosque. But the two also have some goals in common. Both say Gwinnett needs to maintain its focus on fiscal responsibility and economic development — but to make sure that the growth ahead is smart growth.

Gwinnett Commission District 4 candidates Marlene Fosque and John Heard. SPECIAL PHOTOS (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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That doesn’t mean they don’t disagree on things — or that the race hasn’t had its ugly moments.

Last week, controversial mailers were sent to voters by Heard’s campaign, alleging that Fosque has had previous financial and legal troubles. The mailer accuses Fosque of bouncing checks, then “ignoring warrants” in Greensboro, N.C., where she lived before moving to Gwinnett County in 2003. It also says she “doesn’t pay her creditors,” because she’s filed bankruptcy before, and that she’s had tax liens.

Fosque, for the most part, has refused to directly address the mailers.

“Ordinary citizens, we have trials, we have tribulations in our past, our present and our future,” Fosque said. “But we also have triumphs.”

A representative from the Guilford County Clerk of Superior Court’s office in Greensboro said a case listed in online records from 1988 involved Fosque being charged with writing a “worthless check” for $31.55. She was found guilty and paid the money back.

No other criminal cases were listed for Fosque in Guilford County, the representative said.

As for the mailer’s bankruptcy claims, court records confirm she filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy — which involves creating a new repayment plan with debtors — in North Carolina in 1993. The case was closed about two years later.

Online records suggest Georgia did file a state tax lien against Fosque in 2010. The lien was for just under $600 and was released the following year.

“I think that somebody that doesn’t manage money well doesn’t need to be voting on budgetary items,” Heard said.

Fosque seemed to take the mailers in stride, saying she was “just going to focus on being positive.”

A picture of one side of the mailers distributed recently by the campaign of Gwinnett District 4 Commissioner John Heard regarding his Democratic opponent in November’s election, Marlene Fosque. SPECIAL PHOTO (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

But a Facebook post from the Gwinnett County Democratic Party called the Republican’s allegations “straight out of thin air.” It also urged voters to vote against Heard because he “voted no on MARTA” — which isn’t true.

He did issue a statement lambasting MARTA as a “tax-eating boondoggle” and saying he would vote against Gwinnett’s proposed contract with the transit agency. But he ultimately voted in favor of the MARTA contract and to hold a referendum on transit expansion into the county. His support was conditional on the referendum being held in March instead of during November’s general election, which usually draws more voters.

Heard said he thinks the county shouldn’t be jumping into spending potentially billions of dollars on things like heavy rail when technologies are changing so rapidly.

Fosque said she’s “definitely 100 percent MARTA” and called the March referendum — which would cost an additional $500,000 or more — “disappointing.”

Heard is fond of calling Gwinnett the best place “in the universe” to do business and pointed to the county’s prestigious “Triple-AAA” bond rating, which means it has achieved the highest marks possible from all three rating agencies. He also boasted about his role in the creation of the county’s planned “water innovation center,” which he said could ultimately create thousands of jobs.

Fosque says she’ll improve communication with residents (“a lot of our citizens don’t know what’s going on”) and business owners who would like to bid on projects or seek contracts with the county but may not understand the process. She said she also wants to find ways to diversify the county’s staff.

The District 4 seat is one of two Gwinnett Commission spots up for grabs Nov. 6. In District 2, which primarily covers parts of Lilburn, Norcross and Peachtree Corners, Republican incumbent Lynette Howard will try to fend off Democratic challenger Ben Ku.

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