Will ‘racist pig’ protests continue in commissioner’s absence?

The protesters who have targeted Tommy Hunter for more than a month are regrouping after a spokesman for the embattled Gwinnett County commissioner said he no longer plans to attend the public comment periods they've used to express their displeasure.

Hunter has been the focus of protests and calls for resignation 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 as a "racist pig" and referred to Democrats as "Demonrats" and a "bunch of idiots."

Hunter is a Republican. The post was written amid a well-publicized feud between Lewis and then-president-elect Donald Trump.

During the first three Board of Commissioners meetings since his controversial social media activity was exposed, Hunter sat through hours-long public comment periods as protesters spoke against him. But on Tuesday, the commissioner left just as the first person was beginning to speak against him.

Hunter’s spokesman, a consultant named Seth Weathers, later told The AJC that the commissioner had had a business meeting to get to — but then added that Hunter didn’t plan to sit through future public comment periods and be “berated in a one-way conversation.”

Gwinnett Democratic Party President Gabe Okoye, who has been one of the most vocal advocates of protests against Hunter, said Thursday that his group is in the process of discussing “a corresponding approach in response to this new tactic, should it continue.”

Donna McLeod, a leader of another protest group called United Together 2017, sent an email to her followers on Wednesday. It urged for protests to continue -- and take aim at Hunter’s commission colleagues.

“So he can’t take the heat and he’s getting out of the Kitchen,” the email said. “Well his colleagues ... will face the heat for him and their passive responses.”

About two dozen protesters spoke at Tuesday’s meeting even after Hunter left. The board next meets at 7 p.m. on Feb. 28.

Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash, who wrote a letter apologizing to Rep. Lewis the day after Hunter's Facebook posts were brought to light, said this week her ability to comment on the situation is limited by the outstanding ethics complaint filed against her fellow commissioner.

Nash said late Wednesday it was “premature” to comment on Hunter’s apparent plan to skip out on public comment periods moving forward. There is nothing in Gwinnett’s ordinances that explicitly mandates a commissioner’s attendance during those periods — or at any meeting, for that matter.

“I will wait and see how things actually develop,” Nash said in an email to The AJC.