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Citizens speak up at forum

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

SUWANEE — Lawrenceville resident Phil Rodriguez was tired of not being heard.

At a residents’ forum before the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners in Suwanee on Monday, Rodriguez decried former Chairman Charles Bannister’s past unwillingness to listen to the people of the county.

“All these years he’s been stiffing the residents,” he said, a crowd pushing 100 residents looking on.

The second of four two-hour forums designed specifically to hear complaints, concerns and suggestions, Monday’s forum at George Pierce Park is part of what Rodriguez hopes will be a trend — openness in a governing body that has seen more than its fair share of controversy in recent months.

“That’s one of the reasons why we’re doing this, is because you do have more time,” District 2 Commissioner Lynette Howard said. “We felt like this is an important part of our government.”

District 3 Commissioner Mike Beaudreau offered a more succinct reply that drew applause: “(Bannister)’s not here anymore.”

After a brief financial presentation, the floor was opened to anyone who wished to speak. Topics ranged from SPLOST to the deficit to water concerns.

Buford resident Jean Sharley took to the mic to find out what the county’s plan is if water problems and disputes over Lake Lanier come to a head. When District 1 Commissioner Shirely Lasseter said that financial problems were No. 1 and water was No. 2, Sharley responded.

“If you don’t have water, the financial problems won’t really be there,” she said. “There will be a mass exodus.”

Replied Howard: “We won’t let that happen.”

The ever-present debate over the privatization or commercialization of Lawrenceville’s Briscoe Field Airport made its appearance Monday as well.

“I promise you, you have my word. This will not be a surprise to anyone, ever,” Lasseter said. “These people are committed to getting this information together and getting it to you.”

“I know a lot of people think we sit up there at the county and talk about this airport,” she added. “That’s probably one of the last things we think about.”

Residents also expressed concern about the current service delivery strategy and its status in legal limbo. Currently, Gwinnett police officers, as well as those in six other municipal departments, cannot use radar or lasers to nab speeders.

Monday’s residents’ forum was the second of four scheduled at various locations throughout the county. Another forum will be held Feb. 8 at Lucky Shoals Park Community Recreation Center in Norcross, with the final one to be held March 7 at the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse in Lawrenceville.

Both sessions will be held at 7 p.m.