As speeches go, I think it was her best. As topics go, it's not what Charlotte Nash would have preferred. But the Gwinnett Commission Chairwoman had no choice during last week's State of the County address.
When reflecting on 2012, Nash would have been disingenuous had she skipped past the ethics problems that plagued the commission last year. Shirley Lasseter pleading guilty to federal bribery charges on the heels of previous black eyes to the commission in the form of a special grand jury's land investigation was deserving of mention. The speech Nash delivered did a nice job of talking about the problems of the past while taking a positive approach to the future.
But the chairwoman knows the public is tired of lip service. Gwinnett residents want action, not rhetoric. Which is why other proclamations made by Nash in the speech are so important. She mentioned the new lead investigator commissioners approved for the district attorney's office, a position designed to help root out corruption among public officials. She talked about the nonprofit that has been created to better help the county's alliance with the Gwinnett Chamber's Partnership Gwinnett stay transparent and keep public money separate from private funds. And she talked about holding more town hall meetings to make her and the other commissioners more accessible.
All are meaningful, and necessary given the circumstances. For the average person, the town hall meetings might be the most important. You should take advantage of them, sharing thoughts, concerns or even praise you might have for Nash and the commissioners. Her speech allowed you to hear her thoughts on the county, these meetings will allow her to hear yours.
Even if Nash had not taken over as chairwoman during such a trying time for the commission's reputation, it would not have been easy. The economic downturn and declining tax digest has been tough enough without the added air of distrust. But the county is making progress, and many business leaders credit Nash with a bulk of that.
"She is the right person for the job because she understands all the details," said Bill McCargo, touting Nash's past experience as county finance director and county administrator. "She's guiding the county through a rough time in a very competent way."
The key moving forward is building back that trust. Nash and the commission will continue to have plenty who disagree with them, but those disagreements should be over policy, not motive. Nash said it best during her speech:
"We know we'll have to work hard to overcome this, and we've taken steps to do just that. Ultimately, it will be our behavior over time that will help us regain the community's trust."
Those words ring true, but Nash knows the commission's actions need to as well. Because as good as last week's speech was, it's not one Nash wants deliver again.
Email Todd Cline at email@example.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.