Lasseter steps in as county's top official

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Officials hope to make a smooth transition, after the resignation of Gwinnett's top elected official.

On Friday, Commissioner Shirley Lasseter stepped in as interim chairwoman of the Board of Commissioners, with the immediate departure of Charles Bannister.

"Citizens should expect county government's normal day-to-day operations to continue during this transition period," County Administrator Glenn Stephens said in a statement. "Gwinnett County government is a strong, well-managed organization comprised of capable leadership and employees, and they will keep the important work of county government moving forward.

"The board's vice chairman, Shirley Lasseter, is empowered to fulfill the chairman's responsibilities when the position is vacant. Over the next several days, county staff will review state law to determine the timing and process for permanently filling the chairman's seat."

After more than a decade as mayor of Duluth, Lasseter was elected to the county commission in 2008 to represent District 1, which encompasses much of Duluth, Berkeley Lake and Suwanee.

"We're going to keep working for the citizens of Gwinnett," Lasseter said, adding that she never had ambitions to take the top spot. "When issues come up, you rise to meet the occasion."

While the chairmanship is a full-time position, Lasseter said she would continue to hold down her job at the state Insurance Commissioner's Office and perform ceremonial duties as much as she can on nights and weekends.

As Bannister announced his resignation Friday, many county staffers and some residents were completing the last of three days of budget hearings to prepare for 2011. With a Dec. 1 due date to complete a recommendation, Lasseter said the budget will be a top priority, especially as the economic downturn has created a $30 million gap even before enhancements are considered.

Another big issue to be decided in the coming days will be the details of a special election to replace Bannister, likely early next year. Lasseter said she has not thought yet about entering the race herself.

"I'm more concerned about the present and what is going on right now," she said, adding that creating certainty for the county staff takes precedence. "I know this has been a blow to them, and I want them to be secure."

She asked for patience from local residents during the transition to a new chairman, but promised, "we will not falter to do what's best for the citizens."