MURPHY: Strong leadership is needed going forward

J.K. Murphy

J.K. Murphy

Gwinnett County commissioners come and go, but not at that quick a pace. In the last 10 years, 10 different names have been inscribed on the nameplates in the commissioners' meeting room. Potentially, if each candidate would have been one term and out, that number could have been 25.

In 2000, Chairman Wayne Hill and district commissioners Tommy Hughes, Patti Muise, Judy Waters and Kevin Kenerly were in their sixth year together. In total, those individuals accumulated 54 years of service as commissioners.

Of that group, Kenerly wins the longevity award. When his current term ends next year, he'll have 16 years under his belt. The only other with that kind of tenure was Marion Buice, district commissioner from 1969 to 1985.

So let's agree that while the faces of politics are always changing, they've changed a bit slower on the Gwinnett county commission.

Now even that's changing. In September, Kenerly announced he won't run again. On Thursday, fellow commissioner Bert Nasuti, who was elected in 2002 and again in 2006, said his name won't be on the ballot in 2010.

So the two commissioners whose terms are next to expire won't seek a return to office. Without incumbents in those races, expect several candidates to surface, although I'm not sure why anyone would want to jump into the commission cauldron when it's boiling over. And at this juncture -- dare we say it? -- the timing could be right for someone from the Democratic Party to be elected to the Gwinnett commission.

The other three commissioners were elected or re-elected last year and will serve until 2012.

So two new commissioners will join second-termers Chairman Charles Bannister and Commissioner Mike Beaudreau and first-termer Shirley Lasseter.

Comparatively speaking, the group taking office in 2011 will be fledgling. Bannister and Beaudreau will have completed six years of service, Lasseter two and the newcomers zero. That comes to 14 years among the five.

Little experience doesn't necessarily translate into little leadership. Many campaigns are, in fact, driven by the desire for change and/or new blood.

This sea change, however, comes at an especially critical time for Gwinnett County.

Gwinnett's consistent growth in development and population has created new revenue to fuel expanding services. But the time has come when the expense line crosses the revenue line. And it seems we don't know what to do about it.

Additionally, in looking for ways to cut expenses, the county lost many of its most veteran employees.

In September, 202 county workers representing 4,400 years of experience retired.

Many in the top rung of leadership are gone: No. 2 county executive Deputy County Administrator Mike Comer, Fire Chief Steve Rolader and Assistant County Administrator Lisa Johnsa. County Administrator Jock Connell, Gwinnett's chief executive, is assisting his replacement, Glenn Stephens, through the end of the year. Johnsa is back with the county, but only temporarily as a consultant.

All of this should lead to interesting times in the halls of the Gwinnett Justice and Administrative Center. The county will need strong leadership from our current commissioners and a sharp eye from Gwinnett's voters as they pick their two new commissioners next year.

J.K. Murphy is the publisher of the Gwinnett Daily Post. E-mail him at jk.murphy@gwinnettdailypost.com.