Rick Badie: Sun's setting on Gwinnett commission

On Sept. 15, Gwinnett County Commissioner Kevin Kenerly plans to announce whether he’ll run for a fifth term in his District 4 seat. He may even campaign for state office.

Bert Nasuti, the District 2 commissioner, is up for re-election in 2010, too. He’s been mum, at least publicly, about his political aspirations.

Well, here’s some advice for both, at least as it relates to seeking office. Don’t. Allow me to borrow a few sports clichés. Gentlemen it’s high time to “throw in the towel,” to “hang up the glove,” to “stop suiting up,” to “walk away from the game.”

Former Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Wayne Hill earned the label “sultan of sprawl” because of the commercial and residential buildup that took place during his 12 years in office. Critics railed about what they called senseless and unchecked construction, from cookie-cutter subdivisions to banal strip malls. He shouldered the blame.

Hill’s notable deeds — construction of a first-class arena and a world-class sewage plant; the preservation of green space and park land — couldn’t overcome negative perception of his tenure. The Hill Era, for many, was the Sprawl Era. Rightly or wrongly, this became his moniker, and in 2004, voters showed him the door. He lost his re-election bid to Rep. Charles Bannister of Lilburn.

Bannister didn’t win because he was a great statesman who ran an edgy campaign with a palatable platform. He won, primarily, because he wasn’t Hill.

Sprawl may not be Kenerly or Nasuti’s political death knoll. Money will. Specifically, the way these officials — as overseers of taxpayer coffers — managed and spent it. The way the currently proposed cost-cutting measures will severely stifle services residents in these here parts want to build upon, not dismantle. The way reductions to the 2009 and 2010 budgets will create a shabbier, less pristine county, something Bannister acknowledged in a letter to residents.

Folk are angry. They don’t want higher taxes, but they dislike the way this government is being downsized. Reductions snuffed out this year’s July Fourth fireworks and, in the future, will pare emergency services. Their anger reaches deeper than the 400 or so attendees at the commissioners’ meeting Tuesday, where officials gave the green light to $225 million in budget cuts over five years. (After all, how many working people can attend a 2 p.m. meeting?)

Polls aren’t the end-all and be-all of public sentiment, but they can provide a gauge. The Marketing Workshop Inc., a Norcross firm, conducted a mid-June survey for Gwinnett Forum, an online community forum that appeals to mostly white-collar, long-term residents. Take from it what you will.

Among the findings: A majority of respondents liked living here, even though they didn’t credit county officials for the quality of life they enjoy. Forty-three percent of the respondents thought the county was managed “fair” or “poorly.” The main issues they listed that face the county were transportation (51 percent), crime/safety/drugs (29 percent) and county management (28 percent).

The surveys states: “One comment which perhaps best sums up poll participants’ opinions would be: ‘I am just not happy with the group currently running the county.’ ”

On Wednesday, Gwinnett announced the demolition of the twin water tanks visible from I-85 near Jimmy Carter Boulevard. They proclaim that “Success Lives Here” and “Gwinnett is Great.” Upgrades to a pumping station and other improvements mean the tanks are no longer necessary.

See, the tanks are obsolete and outmoded. They had to go.

Just like the basketball player who loses the touch on his jump shot or the spring in his legs.

Just like some politicians.

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