Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful ready to get back to its original mission

Shortly after moving here 10 years ago, I recognized that the Gwinnett community has some things going for it that the places I'd come from didn't.

Among the noteworthy is the nonprofit organization Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful, a group that took on the mission of keeping Gwinnett, well, clean and beautiful as it grew at a dizzying pace. One person describes GC&B's goal very simply: To assure the county ages gracefully.

Since its inception in 1980, the staff and an incredible army of volunteers have done just that via activities such as graffiti eradication, "Bring one for the Chipper," the governor's annual environmental address, operation of the recycling bank, Adopt-A-Road, "Take Pride in Gwinnett," air and water conservation programs, environmental education in Gwinnett schools, implementation of the "Fixing Broken Windows" program and the list goes on.

So I was honored a few months ago when asked to join the group's advisory board and I looked forward to playing a part in continuing its good work.

For 28 years, this agency went about its business without controversy and beyond reproach.

A while ago, the county received a state mandate to evaluate and correct any problems in the way our trash was collected, disposed of and recycled. In need of guidance, county government turned to GC&B.

There were some problems and inefficiencies in the way we collected waste:

· Regardless of where they lived, Gwinnett residents could pick from several waste companies, meaning trucks from different companies followed each other down streets and through subdivisions.

· Recycling options were limited and varied from hauler to hauler.

· Some residents didn't sign up for trash service at all, choosing instead to dispose of refuse "on their own," i.e., at someone else's house or business, in vacant fields or along roadsides or simply by letting it accumulate in their own yards.

This was a vast and costly undertaking burdened with bureaucracy, politics and legal ramifications. The nonprofit approached the request with initial reluctance, but eventually accepted the responsibility - for the good of the county and the right thing to do.

Tumult was expected. When an overhaul this sweeping affects businesses and pocketbooks, you're not going to make everyone happy. But throughout the exercise, GC&B kept its eye on the greater good.

Everything was done by the book - they hired consultants, sought public input and checked with attorneys every step of the way. Everything seemed in order when GC&B made its final recommendation to the county commission, which embraced the plan unanimously.

Certainly there were questions and criticisms. The plan was welcomed by some and attacked by others. But GC&B never wavered in its goal to improve the quality of life here.

Eventually, some of those against the plan took it to the courts. Just weeks before the new system was to begin, the courts issued a stay, temporarily preserving the old method of trash collection until a suitable deal could be worked out.

And it's been downhill ever since. The haulers, the county and GC&B are mired in lawsuits and appeals and court orders and all sorts of legal rigamarole. Now the county wants nothing to do with GC&B.

In January, the same governmental body that asked GC&B to take on this task voted unanimously to sever completely the county's relationship with GC&B, either on the advice of counsel or to protect its members politically. The county has also notified GC&B that it must vacate its offices in the county annex building by May 9.

To put it bluntly, the organization did everything the county asked of it and now has been cast off and abandoned. Some use the phrase "hung out to dry."

Despite the fracas and its estranged relationship with the county, GC&B is picking itself up and dusting itself off. Much uncertainty remains as the parties involved trudge through all the lawsuits. But be comforted in knowing that despite all the distraction, GC&B has already resumed its original mission to keep this land clean and beautiful.

J.K. Murphy is publisher of the Gwinnett Daily Post. In January he joined the Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful community advisory board. E-mail him at jk.murphy@gwinnettdailypost.com.