Gwinnett's Nash pledges to restore public trust

Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash pledged to restore trust in government and consult the public on tough decisions in her first state of the county address Wednesday.

Nash did not directly address the questionable land deals that led to the resignation of her predecessor and the indictment of another commissioner. But she pledged to strengthen Gwinnett’s ethics rules, change the way the county buys land and improve communication with a public critical of past decisions made behind closed doors.

“All of us know that it’s important that we rebuild that [public] trust,” Nash told more than 500 community and business leaders at Gwinnett Center in Duluth.

Wednesday’s address gave Nash her best chance yet to lay out an agenda after her March 15 election to the chairman’s job. She focused on the challenges facing Gwinnett -- not the least of them being restoring public trust.

In October a grand jury released a scathing report that found county commissioners paid too much for parkland in deals that benefited political allies. The jury indicted then-Commissioner Kevin Kenerly for bribery and considered a perjury charge against then-Chairman Charles Bannister, who resigned.

On Wednesday Nash said the county’s staff is drafting recommendations for new ethics and land-acquisition rules. She said she hopes the commission will adopt new land-buying rules within 60 days and new ethics rules within 90 days.

Nash also pledged to improve communication with the public by publishing more information on the county’s website and looking for other ways to leverage communication technology.

“Ronald Reagan had a policy of `trust but verify,’” she said. “We want to give you as much information as we can so you can verify, so that you can trust the decisions we make in county government.”

Nash’s remarks went over well with one government critic, Steve Ramey of the Founding Fathers Tea Party Patriots. He was especially glad to hear her “trust but verify” pledge.

“That’s a big thing,” Ramey said. “I think she’s going to be a good chairman.”

Nash also pledged to expand a citizen budget review team and to poll county residents on tough spending decisions that lie ahead. She said she wants accurate information on what services are most important to the public as the county struggles with declining property tax revenue.

“We’re at a place where we can’t afford to guess,” she said. “We need concrete data to make these decisions.”

Despite problems with its budget, public trust, the economy and other challenges, Nash said Gwinnett has many strengths. Among them: dedicated county employees, a vibrant business community and “the best schools in the United States.”

“I’m mighty glad we’re here in Gwinnett County,” the chairwoman said.