Public relations-wise, it's clear what Shirley Lasseter's recent guilty plea to federal bribery charges did to Gwinnett's Board of Commissioners. The paint-them-all-with-the-same-brush mentality is as understandable as it is unfair.
But coming after previous BOC black eyes -- the resignation of then-Chairman Charles Bannister and bribery charges against former commissioner Kevin Kenerly -- you can't blame citizens for their lack of trust.
Building that trust will take time, but you've heard that after the fallout from each of the previous issues. The old saying goes: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." But three times? Maybe it's time to invent a new saying. And to quit playing the fool.
With that said, the BOC can't let those black eyes keep it from moving forward, albeit in a more cautious manner. That caution showed during Tuesday's meeting when the subject turned to a proposed hotel that would be located at Gwinnett Center. Preston Williams, CEO of Gwinnett Center, called the possibility of bringing a 300-room, full-service Marriott to the center a "no-brainer."
But it's not that simple. Not when the BOC is under such scrutiny, Not when the Lasseter case is still so fresh. And not when Commissioner John Heard was hired as a consultant by Chuck Thakkar, the developer who submitted the proposal.
There really are no "no-brainers" these days for the BOC.
Earlier this year, Heard, an architect, notified officials about the consulting job and then resigned as a member of the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau board because of it. Heard did not attend Tuesday's briefing on the issue and has said he would not vote on the matter. But his fellow BOC members are understandably gun shy, wanting to properly vet the situation.
Said Chairwoman Charlote Nash: "We want to make sure that we can comfortably assure ourselves that there was no impropriety in the project. We all are very cognizant of the need to be totally transparent in any project."
Nash also asked that Thakkar, who works for Nilhan Hospitality, submit a letter attesting that no commissioner would profit from the decision. And Commissioner Mike Beaudreau asked for a timeline showing Heard's involvement in the deal. Heard previously said he was paid "in the $100,000 range" for his consulting work.
Because of Heard's involvement in the deal and the BOC's past sins, what appears to be a no-brainer is anything but.
The shame of it is, it is a good deal, one that would benefit the Gwinnett Center, that area of Duluth and the county as a whole. Nilhan has $57 million in financing already lined up, and the project would bring 210 jobs directly to the community and $71.2 million in county, schools, hotel and sales taxes over the next 30 years, according to a consultant.
That's a lot of benefits for the county. But before the BOC can vote "yes" it must make sure it doesn't also come with a lot of benefits for one of its members.
That part really is a "no-brainer."
Email Todd Cline at email@example.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.