Who’s running for Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners District 4: John Heard, Alfie Meek

GWINNETT COUNTY OFFICES ON THE MAY 20 PRIMARY BALLOT

County Commission

District 2: Jay Trevari (D), Lynette Howard (R)(i)

District 4: Alfie Meek (R), John Heard (R)(i)

Board of Education

District 2: Leon Hobbs (R), Ileana McCaigue (R), Dan Seckinger (R)(i)

District 4: Robert McClure (R)(i), Zachary Rushing (D)

State Court Judge

Pamela South (i), Joseph C. Iannazzone (i)

Solicitor

Gregory McKeithen (D), Rosanna Szabo (R)(i)

If you live in the central swath of Gwinnett County stretching from Buford to Lawrenceville, the May 20 primary will be your only chance to pick who represents you on the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners.

Two candidates, both Republicans, are running for the District 4 County Commission seat: Incumbent John Heard, an architect for Metro Waterproofing Inc., faces Alfie Meek, Gwinnett County’s former economic analysis director who now works as an economic development consultant for Georgia Tech.

The winner will make key decisions about how the county of more than 850,000 residents spends tax dollars, approaches economic development and shapes land development.

It’s been four years since the first indictment in connection with local and federal corruption investigations that thus far have indicted two commissioners, put one in federal prison, and forced the county chairman to resign. But Meek said some voters are still wary of the possibility of elected officials lining their own pockets.

Heard replaced former Commissioner Kevin Kenerly, who was indicted in 2010 on corruption charges. Heard said Meek is “four years late” on the ethics issue.

“We’ve done a tremendous job of being trustworthy stewards of the voters in my term,” he said. “The voters have cleaned out that issue.”

Ethics issues

Heard, who was elected to the commission in 2010, has faced several accusations of unethical behavior while in office. Among them: accepting a $10,000 per month consulting job with a hotel developer later selected to build a hotel on county land next to the Gwinnett convention center. After disclosing the payments, Heard recused himself from or was not present at public votes on the deal.

Heard has never been charged with a crime in connection with his actions as a commissioner.

As an architect, Heard at times works closely with developers. That can mean his professional and public roles sometimes converge. For example, Heard appointed a real estate broker he had worked with to the county's planning board.

“As a county commissioner, I’ve got a right to maintain personal business relationships regardless of who they’re with,” he said.

And while nearly all of the $27,350 in campaign contributions Heard has reported to date in 2014 come from developers, their representatives and major county vendors, Heard said he is not influenced by campaign contributions.

“I’ve been very careful and straightforward in everything I’ve ever voted on,” he said.

Meek reported $3,250 in contributions over the same period. His largest single source of funding is a personal loan from himself.

Economic Development

Heard, a former state legislator, said Gwinnett is already doing a good job of shaping its economic future through things such as streamlining the development and business startup process. The county needs to build on that work, he said.

“We don’t want an image of being difficult to work with,” he said.

Gwinnett County outsources most of its efforts to attract new businesses to the Gwinnett Chamber. Heard said the chamber is doing a good job, and county incentives for business should not be an option.

“Incentives deal with inferiorities,” he said. “In Gwinnett, we don’t have to deal with inferiorities.”

Meek, who has a doctorate in economics, said he has seen a longer-term downward trend in Gwinnett, with rising poverty levels and a falling number of high-wage jobs since the late 1990s.

“Government’s not the solution,” he said. “But I think there are things we can do to help the business community and help the citizens.”

He said Gwinnett should change its economic development ordinance to offer incentives to create high-wage jobs. And the county needs to be more open to creating top-tier office space in order to attract and retain big businesses. NCR, the financial technology giant, which moved to Gwinnett in 2009 with more than $100 million in incentives, is now considering moving out of Gwinnett.

In the face of a lawsuit, the Gwinnett Chamber established in 2012 a separate nonprofit organization to account for the public's share of funding for its economic development work. Meek said that's a positive move, and one he had recommended when he worked for the county.