Gwinnett Chairman Nash lays out priorities for final months in office

Charlotte Nash, chair of the Gwinnett County Commission, gave her final State of the County address Wednesday. EMILY HANEY / emily.haney@ajc.com AJC FILE PHOTO
Charlotte Nash, chair of the Gwinnett County Commission, gave her final State of the County address Wednesday. EMILY HANEY / emily.haney@ajc.com AJC FILE PHOTO

When Charlotte Nash took the helm of Gwinnett County’s board of commissioners in a 2011 special election, the county was battered.

A bribery scandal had pushed three of the five commissioners from office, two under indictment. The effects of the Great Recession were still being felt, with declining tax revenues and new construction that was far below the levels of Gwinnett’s boom-time peak. And trust in government had been shattered.

Since then, Nash restored public trust, led Gwinnett to financial stability and set the government up for the future.

It's a future she won't be part of after this year — at least not officially. Nash has announced that she won't run for re-election this fall.

"Now's not the time to say goodbye," Nash said Wednesday in her final State of the County address. "I'll be working hard the next 10 months on the county's priorities, but I look forward to sitting in the audience with you next year and hearing from a new chairman how the community is uniting to meet our challenges."

The speech was part valedictory, part instruction manual for whoever her successor might be. In front of more than 900 community leaders and residents at the Infinite Energy Forum, Nash laid out the need to continue to focus on water issues — which she said keep her up at night — and to bring transit to the county after a failed referendum last spring.

She also said the new leader must maintain public safety services, expand parks and improve childhood literacy. All of it must be done sustainably, she said, and she cautioned her successor and other county leaders to apply discipline to make sure the basic services the county must fund are paid for, even though other projects might be appealing.

In issuing those challenges, Nash praised her predecessors in government, who she said made bold decisions and took risks “to totally lift the trajectory of an entire community.”

“If all of you expect greatness and Gwinnett leaders continue to lead with vision and courage, then I truly believe our most extraordinary days are still to come, and I’m counting on each of you to make sure that’s still the case,” she said.

Her vision for a brighter future will have some help. The Community Foundation of Northeast Georgia announced a $50,000 Charlotte Nash Community Fund, which will support charitable organizations that address the county’s critical needs.

In response to that, and other praise, Nash said she was getting emotional about the response to her leadership — though she’d told herself she wouldn’t.

“I can’t say enough good things about the support the community has given to me over time,” she said.

Michael Paris, the president of the Council for Quality Growth — which sponsors the event — said Nash was “the finest leader this region, this county, this state has seen in a long time.” His comments were met with a standing ovation.

Srinivas Jalla and John Barlow, colleagues at the architecture firm Gresham Smith, said they appreciated the challenges Nash laid out for residents.

Jalla said Nash’s comments reminded him and others of the importance of long-term planning and thinking.

“She inspires us to be engaged,” Barlow said.

Liz Hausmann, a Fulton County commissioner who attended the speech, said Nash “is Gwinnett.”

Wayne Hill, a former Gwinnett commission chair and a longtime friend of Nash’s, said he thought she has done “a terrific job” in her decade leading the county.

“She’s been the right person at the right time,” Hill said. “I hate to see her go.”

Nash’s fellow county commissioners also expressed their appreciation for her leadership, with Commissioner Jace Brooks saying Nash is “treasured throughout this region.”

Nash, though, is still looking forward. After all, there are 10 months left in office and a slew of things to accomplish.

“I did have the opportunity to use today to speak to the entire community about things I think are important for the future,” she said. “Hopefully, I highlighted some things that folks will dig into some more.”