WHAT WE ATE
Carlyles Park Cafe at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center
Chopped Steak with two veggies and a drink $7.99
Salad by the oz. $6.40
Potato chips 93 cents
24-ounce drink $1.55
Editors note: “Out To Lunch” is a periodic feature that allows readers a chance to learn about the people behind the titles in Gwinnett County through a lunchtime conversation with a member of the GDP staff. The subject picks the place, we pick up the tab and then share the conversations that occur during the meal.
With all the options available at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center cafeteria — sandwiches, salads, hot meals — Charlotte Nash places a chopped steak with tomatoes and okra and turnip greens on her tray. A Southern meal befitting the country girl who grew up to lead her home county.
During a lunch break on a recent busy day filled with Board of Commissioners meetings, Nash chatted with a staffer while she filled her cup with tea. After all, for many of the county’s employees, Nash isn’t just a politician who came in to tighten the reins of a government shaken by scandal. She is returning to the trenches, where she helped build Gwinnett’s stable finances over decades as a county employee herself.
Finding a spot in the crowded cafeteria, Nash digs in, eventually spotting the watermelon growing on a ledge in the outdoor seating space.
She talks about her farm, where her husband Michael, now retired, is trying to breed miniature donkeys (unsuccessfully so far.) The milk cow had to be put down, so Nash doesn’t have to wake up early to milk. But she doesn’t have any advice for the chickens that are about to arrive at my little plot: the coyotes kept getting hers.
It’s an interesting dichotomy, continuing to live in her rural roots while managing the second-largest county in Georgia, where real urban issues draw much of her attention. She shares some of that story over lunch.
Nash grew up in the rural Harbins community, where she met her husband. They dated in high school — twice — a bit of a sore subject, or at least a cause for teasing.
Giving up a scholarship to Georgia Southern to get married and transfer to the University of Georgia, the young bride started her career commuting to downtown Atlanta.
But when her son Jarrett was 2 years old, she decided to cut down on the drive time and be closer to the baby in case he needed her in the middle of the day.
“I thought I would stay a few years and move on (on a new career turn),” Nash said. The situation, we found, was similar to my own, coming home after college to work for the hometown newspaper with dreams of moving on to a more metropolitan life but finding great satisfaction in playing a part in the local community.
Speaking of babies (a topic at the top of my mind), Nash chose her son’s name because she was looking for something unique, and he was given his dad’s name for the middle. Her daughter’s moniker Bethany came easily, honoring three of the four grandmothers, all named Elizabeth, in one shot, with the French version of Charlotte, Carla, for the middle name.
They both have remained nearby, allowing Nash to dote on her two granddaughters. The older one, she bragged, is finishing her final year of high school while taking college classes with ambitions of becoming a nurse-midwife.
Nash, who never had dreams of politics, takes a bite of greens as the conversation turns to the recent Republican Party convention.
“My daddy was a diehard Southern Democrat. He’s probably still spinning in his grave because there was an ‘R’ by my name on the ballot,” Nash said with a laugh.
Grateful that she doesn’t have her own campaign to mount — she was unopposed for her first full term — Nash said she has been watching the GOP with interest.
As a numbers woman (she was the county’s first female finance director), the choice of Paul Ryan for vice president, with his aims to balance the federal budget and cut spending, is right up her alley.
But she isn’t sure if the message will reach everyone.
“I think what is going to resonate with people most is exactly what Mitt (Romney) said in one of his lines, that the current president wanted to stop the oceans from rising and heal the planet and I’m just going to focus on your family,” she said, paraphrasing. “I think that will resonate with the average person.”
As a country girl turned civic leader turned politician, she would know.