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Julianne Thompson
Planner got involved in politics at early age

Julianne Thompson, the at-large member of Gwinnett's planning board for the past two years, lives in Suwanee with her husband, Gwinnett criminal defense attorney Jason Thompson, and their children, 9-year-old Victoria and 2-year-old Hayden. The Liberty University and Regent University graduate worked on Capitol Hill for three years before moving to Gwinnett.

In this installment of "Community Connections," staff writer Arielle Kass talks with Thompson about her interest in interior design, eating pizza with Sonny Bono and her love for family.

AK: What do you do for a living? Or what did you do for a living before?

JT: Well, aside, of course, from what comes first and foremost, and that's being a mother to my children, I own an interior design company, Casa Bella Interiors.

AK: And how did you get involved in it?

JT: I got my real estate license in late 2000 and I started ... staging homes for other realtors in addition to my own listings. And I enjoyed it a lot. It's something I had a knack for, so I started my own interior design company. And it's something I can do and work around my schedule with my children.

AK: Tell me a little about what other careers you've had.

JT: Well, my degree is in communications.

AK: So what did you do with your degree?

JT: Immediately after graduating, I went and did an internship in Washington, D.C., in the House of Representatives. And I was there for ... I want to say my internship lasted about six months. And then I decided to go to graduate school. And after a year of graduate school, I was offered a position with the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

AK: And what did you do for them?

JT: I was a legislative aide, and after three months, I was promoted to the subcommittee on the U.S. Constitution.

AK: What does that mean exactly, what did you -?

JT: Oh, you do a little bit of everything. You lobby congressmen and congresswomen on laws that are being discussed in committee. I worked with the Republican majority; I worked for the chairman of the full judiciary committee.

AK: And what did you do from there?

JT: My husband and I got married. ... My husband ... went to law school and we moved. Well, first we got married.

AK: How did you meet?

JT: We met at graduate school, at Regent University, and my husband was the chairman of the student body for the school of government. That's how we met.

AK: Were you involved in student government at all?

JT: I was the social director (laughs) of student government.

AK: So you planned all the outings.

JT: I did.

AK: ... which he had to attend because he was president.

JT: That's right (laughs). Well, I met him during orientation and I saw him standing there and he looked so diplomatic in his suit and I told my roommate, I said, "I think I'll probably marry him." (laughs)

AK: And lo and behold.

JT: And lo and behold, here we are going on 11 years of marriage and two children.

AK: So tell me a little about the Christian Broadcasting Network.

JT: That was when I was in graduate school. I worked as an on-air reporter and the studios were right there on the campus of the university. That made it very easy. And I did some political reporting, but mostly entertainment reporting and it was very exciting. I got to meet a lot of very exciting people.

AK: Any favorites?

JT: You know, I interviewed Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy's, and he was such a nice guy. I really enjoyed him. Nice man, good man.

AK: Is there anything else I should know about your growing-up years?

JT: Well. I'll tell you more about after ... after my husband graduated from law school, he was offered a position in San Diego and a position here.

AK: That was the next question. How did you get here?

JT: And we chose here.

AK: Why?

JT: For a lot of different reasons. We thought that it would be - we had our daughter while we were in law school, while my husband was in law school, and we thought this would be a good place to raise our daughter. And the quality of life and the fact that we could actually afford to pay a mortgage here. (laughter)

AK: And have you lived in Suwanee the whole time?

JT: We started out in Alpharetta and moved to Suwanee about six months later. And that was in late 1999 that we first moved here. And in 2000 I took a job as press secretary for the Georgia Republican Party.

AK: How long did you do that?

JT: A year. And that was during the presidential election, 2000.

AK: What was that experience like?

JT: It was fantastic. It was wonderful. I got to meet a lot of people. ... Of course, when you're young, you're in awe of people. And I lost that working on Capitol Hill. You know, when you get to ride on the same elevator with Al Gore and Janet Reno and they sit down and have coffee next to you, and call you by name, it's a little hard to look at them as larger than life anymore.

AK: Which is good in a lot of ways.

JT: It is, it is. Because you realize that all of these people are human beings with real lives and real families and human flaws just like the rest of us. And you take that into consideration.

AK: So tell me how you became involved in planning and zoning?

JT: Well, I knew Chairman Bannister from the Gwinnett Republican Party. He was a representative - a state representative at the time - and so I knew him from there. And when the position for planning commissioner came open, Melvin Everson left that position to become a state representative, I put my name in the running. I was interviewed several times, I'm sure with a lot of other candidates, and I was fortunate enough to be selected by the chairman to be able to serve as a member of the board.

AK: Why were you interested in the first place?

JT: For a variety of reasons. First and foremost, I want to make sure that Gwinnett County is the kind of - I want Gwinnett to continue to be great and I want my children to be able to inherit a Gwinnett County that has all the positive qualities of life that it has enjoyed in the past.

AK: Do you have any particular zoning philosophies or things that you like to see or try to avoid?

JT: Well, I try to take them on a case-by-case basis. Being a member at large, you have to have some familiarity with everything that is coming before the planning commission. Unlike being a district planning commissioner, where you have your specific set of cases in your district. As member at large, you have to be familiar with - at least partially familiar with - everything coming before the board. So I try to take it on a case-by-case basis. I look at precedent, I look at how well the developer and the community have come together to work and find common ground, and you know, of course we have a lot of things we take into consideration. We take schools into consideration, we take traffic into consideration, we take a lot into consideration before coming to a final vote.

AK: How have you seen your area change?

JT: It's changed a lot since we've been here. And I think it's changed for the better. Our mayor and city council (have) done a fantastic job. And of course, our manager. We have the town center. There's so much, I mean, I could go on and on about Suwanee. But they've done a fantastic job and they seem to have found the right balance between residential and commercial.

AK: How would you like to see (Gwinnett) change? Is there anything in particular you would like in terms of high-rises or in terms of mixed-use?

JT: I supported those, both those and high-rise zonings, which I'm a big proponent of. I think it's very important we continue - we're going to continue to grow, so it's important we go up and grow in density.

AK: What else do you want to tell me about growth, change in Gwinnett? Is there anything that you see as a good thing or a bad thing for the county?

JT: I think we need to concentrate more on balancing commercial with residential. We don't need to be so overloaded with residential that we don't have the tax base from the commercial to really be able to support that. But I think that's something that the county commission is working on. I know that's something that's very important to the chairman and something that he's dedicated to.

AK: Do you find it difficult to be the at-large when everybody has this area to focus on?

JT: Sometimes it's difficult.

AK: Now, you don't speak much during the meetings. Why is that?

JT: Like you just said, everybody has their own specific district. And, you know, I'm an observer until I vote. I am not a district commissioner. So I am sitting there and I am listening to the presentation of the applicant and I am listening to what the district commissioner has to say. Occasionally, you know, I will offer comments or ask questions. But for the most part, most of my questions are answered by the applicant and by the district commissioner. I'm not one to filibuster.

JT: I actually had coffee with Janet Reno during the Waco and Ruby Ridge hearing.

AK: And how was that?

JT: I was in Washington at the time, and the judiciary committee did those hearings, oversaw those hearings. And so Janet Reno was one of the witnesses. And actually got to sit down and have coffee with her.

AK: What was she like?

JT: She was very pleasant, nice person, extremely intelligent. Another highlight for me was having pizza with Sonny Bono (laughter) who was a congressman at the time, he was a congressman on the judiciary committee and he was very good to the staff. Any time we would run late, which we did for the hearings, and quite often when we were in session, we ran quite late, so he would always order pizza for us or have catering sent to the staff. He would just sit down there and eat with us. He was just one of the people there, and he was very personable and I enjoyed that. He was a good man, good congressman.

AK: Did he ever sing for you guys?

JT: No, no, he didn't, he didn't. But he represented Palm Springs very well. He was a good man.

AK: So tell me about your hobbies, interests.

JT: I love to travel.

AK: Anything else? Any other places that you like to visit or want to visit?

JT: My husband and I went to Europe for our honeymoon, but it was in the wintertime, so there were a lot of things we didn't get to do because it was so cold. And we would like to go back to Berlin in the summertime. And we would like to see the Berlin Opera perform the Ring Series by Wagner.

AK: Any other hobbies? Anything you like to do with your family?

JT: You know, if I was talking about how I spend my relaxing time and what calms my stress and what centers me, it's spending time with my husband and my children.

AK: Is there anything particular that you all do together?

JT: Just being with them is wonderful. Any activities that we do together is just icing on the cake. We love to travel as a family. My husband's schedule is just very, very busy, so our time is limited, but we love to swim together. I grew up riding horses and my daughter, of course living in a subdivision, she can't really own a horse inside a subdivision and ride all the time, but my daughter and I, as a mother-daughter type bonding, we are going to take horseback-riding lessons together. I'm going to do it all over again. And my husband and my little boy like to do a lot of father-son outings, too.