Rick Badie: Gwinnett's new chairwoman sounds the right notes

Rest assured, one has started off on the right track when he or she invokes a late U.S. Republican president in a red-state county that has a road named in honor of him.

Charlotte Nash, the newly elected Gwinnett County chairwoman, gave her first State of the County address Wednesday before 500 or so at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth. While it wasn’t in her prepared text (I read that version), she did offer what I’d like to describe as a ditty, though technically it was neither song nor poem. Just fitting.

“Ronald Reagan had a policy of ‘trust but verify,’” she told the gathering of business owners, public servants and other big shots. “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.”

Smart move from a sharp, veteran public servant, and that description is not meant in a devious, suspicious way. Just hope-filled.

Gwinnett County government needs retooling. It must reinvent itself, prove its mettle and show that it truly works for, and with, its residents. Now does not appear to be the time for on-the-job training. Someone needs to restore public trust, a critical element that left the gates years ago, as it relates to elected officials.

In October, a grand jury released a witheringly scornful report that found county commissioners paid too much for parkland in deals that greased palms and pockets of political allies. The jury indicted then-Commissioner Kevin Kenerly for bribery and considered a perjury charge against then-Chairman Charles Bannister, who resigned. (Wonder if they attended Wednesday’s affair?)

Nash was elected with 56 percent of the vote in a special March 15 election. While on the campaign trail, media reports show that she talked about ethics, or the lack thereof, and described “less public trust” as a significant issue.

In her address, the Dacula native and former 4-H member said the county staff is drafting recommendations for new ethics and land-acquisition rules. Moreover, she said she hopes the commission will adopt the land-buying rules within 60 days, and the ethics rules within 90. Naturally, the sitting commissioners will want to tweak the rules here and there, but they’d be hard-pressed to vote nay.

Nash has inherited a government den riddled with a dizzying array of challenges. In her speech, she noted a few — reduced workforce, finances, the economy and jobs.

Then there’s the potential commercialization of Briscoe Field; next year’s transportation sales tax referendum; and, among other issues, the county’s long-standing litigation over which jurisdictions provide key services.

This chairwoman will have fans and foes along the way. She signed up to be criticized for this, that and the other; some folk whine when it’s not done their way.

Her term to replace Bannister ends in 2012. By then, let’s hope residents will be able to review her record and see an antithesis of what transpired under her predecessor.

Nash, it is hoped, will regain public trust.

Rick Badie, an Opinion columnist, is based in Gwinnett. Reach him at rbadie@ajc.com or 770-263-3875.