Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson
NORCROSS — In his political career, Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson has been known as someone who brings people together, negotiating a regional transportation list that got unanimous consent from metro officials, even though it failed with voters.
But once one of the key figures in uniting Gwinnett’s mayors in a service delivery issue with the county, Johnson is now the center of a rift among the municipal leaders.
Mayors ousted Johnson from his position as the Gwinnett municipal representative on the Atlanta Regional Commission Board last month, just weeks after he came close to claiming the chairmanship of the board. Instead, Duluth Mayor Nancy Harris will take his place in Atlanta.
In November, Johnson thought he got support of the mayors in his pursuit of the top spot, when he asked if they were going to send him back to Atlanta during a meeting.
But Buford City Commission Chairman Phillip Beard said that vote was invalid, as law requires that the chairwoman of the county commission conduct the vote. Plus, he pointed out, the leaders of the five biggest cities in Gwinnett — Peachtree Corners, Lawrenceville, Duluth, Sugar Hill and Snellville — were not in attendance, while mayors in three cities only partially within Gwinnett were given votes.
“To send someone to Atlanta to spend billions of dollars, you’ve got to put some time and effort into it,” Beard said of the regional board, which governs transportation spending in the region and has jurisdiction over other issues like senior services. He nominated Harris, who won in a 7-5 vote during a called phone conference.
Beard served 11 years on the ARC board as Gwinnett’s mayoral representative, before resigning for health reasons in 2011. Johnson took over and was elected chairman of the regional roundtable that put together the project list for the 2012 regional sales tax proposal. In last month’s chairmanship vote, Johnson battled fellow Gwinnettian Kerry Armstrong, a citizen member of the board, through rounds of voting before withdrawing himself at one vote shy.
Beard admitted that the mayors may have left the issue alone if Johnson had won the chairmanship, a move that the Norcross mayor called “petty.”
“He served his term, and it was time to have an election,” Beard said, adding that Johnson still has a major role as president of the Metro Atlanta Mayors Association.
Johnson said the surprising move could have implications in county, city and regional politics.
“The way it was done was most unfortunate, and I think there will be repercussions,” he said. “Whether they are positive or negative remains to be seen.”
Johnson added that he thinks Harris will do a fine job representing the local mayors.
The Duluth leader declined to comment on the vote but said she was honored to be nominated for the role.
She described Johnson as “one of my best buddies.”
“I’m just going to represent Gwinnett and do my best to get what I can for Gwinnett County,” Harris said.