Board of Commissioners: Lasseter busy in new role

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

LAWRENCEVILLE -- A week ago, Shirley Lasseter got a hurried text message from the Chamber of Commerce.

Gwinnett's business community was ready to tout an agreement among colleges to bring an entrepreneur incubator program to Lawrenceville. But the surprise resignation of Chairman Charles Bannister meant there was no public figure head for the event.

So, Lasseter, a district commissioner who served as the vice chair of the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners, stepped up in her first public event as the woman in charge.

Lasseter is still working part time for the county. She hasn't gotten a bump in her $30,000 salary or been officially named chairwoman.

Yet, responsible for the chairman's work, she must help prepare a budget somewhere around $1.5 billion and be the public face of Gwinnett's government.

"It's been a busy week. There have been a lot of phone calls," said Lasseter, the former mayor of Duluth.

The widowed grandmother still has a day job, working in Atlanta for the Georgia Insurance Commissioner's Office, but she used the Columbus Day holiday to get up to speed on as many issues as she could.

The rest of the week, she worked during the day but attended public events every evening, including a dinner with the Gwinnett Municipal Association, a group of city council members and mayors that sparred with Bannister in a nearly two-year-long lawsuit involving services.

"I think we all want to work together for a peaceful resolution," Lasseter said of the olive branch from city officials. "That was a good faith offer on their part. I was happy to be there and break bread with them."

Lasseter also met with a group opposed to the privatization proposal for Briscoe Field, and she said she was convinced that the issue should wait until next year, since only she and Commissioner Mike Beaudreau will continue on the board in a few months.

"I think people are worried and it concerns me enough to put this off until after the first of the year when the new people come in," she said, adding that she would make an announcement to that effect during her first meeting with the gavel Tuesday.

"Everybody is so upset, and we haven't done our research."

With just more than two months until the new year but nearly five until the new chairman will be elected, Lasseter said her first priority will be putting together the county budget.

Bannister's resignation came in the middle of presentations from county officials on government wants and needs, but even after a tax increase in 2009, the numbers are tight. Finance officials say the 2011 budget, even before any new programs, is about $30 million in the red.

The county charter calls for the chairman to present his or her budget recommendation by Dec. 1 to be voted on in January. But without an official chairman, Lasseter said she wants to take a more holistic approach, including commissioners as well as the new board members who will be elected in November in the process.

"I am hoping to present a budget that is a unified collaboration of all the commissioners," she said. "It's a good time to make it everybody's budget."

For the most part, other issues have been handed over to county staffers, and Lasseter said she hopes that people offer prayers and support instead of bickering at this trying time.

"We're trying to make sure the citizens have confidence in the government and moving forward and forging on to have a balanced budget at the beginning of the year and good solid government," she said.