Gwinnett chairman: County scrambles to set vote

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Four days after the resignation of Gwinnett's chairman, officials are still tight-lipped about the process to replace him.

"It's a more complicated process than just calling an election," said government spokesman Joe Sorenson, explaining that in certain cases the governor can quickly call an election, but because the county is a creation of the legislature, he is not involved in this process.

"We haven't had this happen before," he said. "There are several steps involved that we have to check."

While Sorenson would not confirm any details as the plans are being finalized, the first date allowed for a special election is March 15.

"We're just making sure everything is in place for that" election, he said. "This is unusual. It's not just like calling a referendum for a (sales tax)."

Charles Bannister resigned the chairman's position Friday, as a special grand jury met for an investigation into land purchases. On Monday, a judge released information that the jury issued "no bill of indictment" on a charge of perjury against Bannister, although the final report from the group is not expected to be released until Oct. 22.

In the interim, Commissioner Shirley Lasseter has taken over the duties of the chairman.

Sorenson pointed out that the chairman is an elected position, so Lasseter, who represents District 1, retains her position, but as the elected vice chair is acting in the stead of the chairman. The Board of Commissioners elects its vice chair from four district commissioners each January, and Sorenson said a new person could be picked at the beginning of next year.

While the details are still being worked out, several prominent county residents are considering entering the special election.

Suwanee Mayor Dave Williams and Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District Executive Director Chuck Warbington have both said they are exploring a race.

"I believe it's important we have someone that is qualified and someone that is honest in that position," Williams said, adding that he was considering the "dominoes" that could fall in Suwanee if he resigns as mayor. "It's a huge decision. It's an enormous commitment. ... But we definitely need good leadership."

Lasseter and Commissioner Mike Beaudreau, who are the only board members that will continue into January, said Friday they had not yet thought about pursuing the chairmanship. Neither was available Tuesday for comment.

Candidates thought to be considering 2012 campaigns for chairman include former County Administrator Charlotte Nash and John Heard, the Republican vying for the open District 4 seat. While Heard said he was focusing on the upcoming November ballot, Nash was not available for comment Tuesday.