Gwinnett Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash addresses the crowd during the Annual State of the County speech on Wednesday at the Gwinnett Center.
State of the County Address - 2013
Gwinnett Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash gives the Annual State of the County Address on Jan. 16, 2013.
DULUTH — Gwinnett Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash faced the county’s reputation of corruption head on in her annual State of the County speech Wednesday, in an effort to “turn the page” on the ordeal.
“I am appalled to hear Gwinnett County and corruption mentioned together,” said Nash, who joined the board after a special grand jury’s land investigation led to the public disgrace of two commissioners but faced the issue again when a commissioner pleaded guilty in a federal bribery probe last year. “Wrongdoing by leaders hurts the community, breaks the public trust and embarrasses all of those who call Gwinnett home.”
Nash pointed to changes in the county’s ethics and land purchase laws during her time in office, but said commissioners will keep working to restore trust with citizens.
“We know that we’ll have to work hard to overcome this, and we’ve taken steps to do just that,” she said. “Ultimately, it will be our behavior over time that will help us regain the community’s trust.”
This year, she said, the board will continue to try to restore public trust by hosting town hall meetings. Plus, commissioners approved a new lead investigator for the district attorney’s office, added specifically to root out corruption among public officials. She also noted the new non-profit entity created to keep public dollars separate and transparent in the Partnerhips Gwinnett economic development initiative.
Local businessman Raymer Sale said he appreciated the chairwoman tackling the issue head-on.
“She’s covered the past and how they are going to keep things above board in the future,” Sale said. “We know we’ve got a challenge. ... (With work) there’s no chance repeating the past errors.
Nash said the most recent chapter in Gwinnett’s history has been marred by an economy that lead to a dip in revenues to 2005 levels.
But she pointed to successes including the continued Triple-A bond rating, the negotiated settlement of a long service delivery dispute with cities and the completion of the Sugarloaf Parkway extension and opening of two new parks among many highlights..
“So yes, the good far outweighed the bad in 2012,” she said, adding that she and her fellow commissioners — the most senior of whom has two years on the board — are “ready to begin a new chapter.”
In 2013, she pledged a focus not only on public trust but continuing to manage through a difficult economy, pursuing economic development, planning for a November sales tax referendum and working to protect the county’s water supply at Lake Lanier.
“Gwinnett has always been a can-do community,” Nash said. “We work together to solve problems. Private citizens volunteer their time to help government set priorities. We listen to each other. We reach agreements on the best way to proceed. And we follow through and deliver on our promises.”
Businessman Bill McCargo, who co-chaired a civic engagement project to help reduce government spending several years ago, said after the speech that he agreed that county leaders have done a lot to right their woes.
“We have had issues, but we have an incredible, competent professional staff that has kept the tiller going for the county, even through the tough times,” McCargo said of the county’s budget problems.
He said he trusted Nash, who not only served as a former county finance staffer but served on his Engage Gwinnett committee, to find the solutions.
“She is the right person for the job because she understands all the details,” he said. “She’s guiding the community through a rough time in a very competent way.”
To the more than 500 business and civic leaders in attendance, Nash said residents and leaders should get involved and help the government “turn the page.”
“I love this county, and I intend to keep the oaths I swore as I took office,” she said. “The district commissioners and I are committed to ensuring that Gwinnett County government does its part to keep this community great.”