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Gwinnett BOC approves raises for county employees; 4% for many workers, 8% for public safety personnel

Christmas came early for full-time Gwinnett County employees on Tuesday.

County commissioners unanimously approved raises for employees, with the new salaries taking effect immediately. Many employees will see their salaries increase by 4%, but public safety personnel are getting an 8% raise.

The raises are expected to have a $5.8 million impact to the county’s budget.

“We’re a growing county and we want to continue to be the best and represent that standard, that gold standard, of delivering high quality services and we need a workforce to do just that,” Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson said.

The raises affect much of the county’s workforce, with the exception of part-time employees who are not eligible to get a pay increase.

The public safety personnel who are getting the larger raises include police officers, firefighters and paramedics, sheriff’s deputies, corrections officers and E911 employees.

“In keeping with the Gwinnett Standard, employees have consistently stayed ahead of the curve with excellent performance on the job,” County Administrator Glenn Stephens said in a statement. “This increase solidifies our commitment to showing them how much we value their contributions.”

The raises were presented to commissioners as a way to keep the salaries offered by Gwinnett County competitive with neighboring government agencies as well as the private sector.

“We have to be able to stay competitive in a market where we are competing with the private sector and so adjusting the pay rates (not only shows) our appreciation for our current workforce, but (enables the county to continue) to recruit and retain the workforce that we have and possibly continue to grow and expand,” Hendrickson said.

The chairwoman said the county was able to afford the raises since revenues were higher than expected and the pandemic caused some expenses to be lower than anticipated as some offices had to close.

“Our funding is coming from our general fund,” Hendrickson said. “We looked at where we are in our budget process and saw that there was a need and a way to fund the positions that we’re requesting and increasing that pay rate, and we’re in a good position financially to be able to provide those increases.”

A new autonomous shuttle service is tested at Peachtree Corners' Curiosity Lab

Shuttles are once again driving themselves up and down Technology Parkway in front of Peachtree Corners City Hall.

City officials formally announced this past week that a new collaboration between Beep, Local Motors, Navya and OVHcloud has resulted in new autonomous vehicles being tested out at Peachtree Corners’ Curiosity Lab.

“Welcome to Peachtree Corners, where we listen to our partners and we go do things,” Mayor Mike Mason said.

This is the second time Curiosity Lab has hosted testing for autonomous shuttles. The lab previously hosted testing for Local Motors’ Olli first generation shuttles for several months when it first opened in 2019.

Beep and OVHcloud are working with Local Motors’ second generation autonomous shuttles as well as Navya’s shuttles.

“We are going to be the first location where autonomous shuttles from two different OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) are going to interact on the same public roadway doing connected vehicle testing and other things over a 5G wireless network,” Peachtree Corners City Manager Brian Johnson said.

The shuttles, which can seat eight people, will operate daily from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on the city’s Technology Parkway-Curiosity Lab test track route with stops at Hampton Inn, City Hall, City Hall (South), Technology Parkway (South), Innovation Center, Research Drive and Anderby Brewing.

For Beep, company CEO Joe Moye saw a major attraction in the chance to be a partnership at Curiosity Lab for one simple reason: Beep is based in metro Atlanta and the lab gave the company a chance to try out the technology in its own back yard. Another benefit, he said, is that Curiosity Lab’s setup allows Beep to do tests with the cloud providers, carriers and different sensors.

“What’s unique about what we’re doing here at the Curiosity Lab is it’s not just about the testing out the vehicles, it’s about testing out anything that’s going to interface with these vehicles,” Moye said.

Beep commissions the shuttles, maintains them and operates them. The shuttle providers provide the vehicles and the autonomous drive systems, which Moye called “the brains” of the shuttles.

“If you kind of picture when you bring one of these vehicles into an area like this, the first thing you have to do is map the route,” Moye said. “These are fixed route scenarios so we go and literally take a three-dimensional map and then ultimately we have to program in the intelligence so that it knows if it’s approaching an intersection, a crosswalk. The vehicles acts differently if it approaches a cross walk, The (sensor) aperture will expand so it can see if somebody is standing on a curb versus how it would normally react on a roadway.

“So, you literally go through a process of commissioning the vehicle to ultimately operate on the routes. We then have a command center, which is based in Orlando, Fla., which oversees everything going on in the vehicles, so we monitor all video, telemetry data, performance data to insure the health of the vehicle as it’s operating out there.”

Meanwhile, OVHcloud will be the provide the cloud data collection. OVHcloud North America General Manager Jeffrey Gregor said the cloud gives the shuttles a place to store data collected along their routes so they can be reviewed later by Beep employees.

That data could include information about the topography of the area along the routes or other data that the shuttle operators decide they may need.

“In this specific example, the autonomous vehicle is going to go around (and) it’s going to have all of these sensors and the ability to compute and make decisions right on board, as they say at the edge,” Gregor said.

“But, further analysis and machine learning and different things will take place afterwards and in the cloud.”

All of that data collection requires internet access to be transmitted from the vehicle. That is where Curiosity Lab’s partnership with T-Mobile to provide high speed 5G internet access comes into play. T-Mobile for Government Vice-President Dave Bezzant said faster internet speeds can help with items needed by the shuttles, such as global positioning.

“When you think about it, when we all got wifi originally, it was a great thing, and then you needed faster wifi because you started to download videos and you started to stream and you started to game and all that changed,” Bezzant said. “What was changing in your normal wifi in a fixed environment was the download speeds. The download speeds gave you greater and greater capabilities.

“5G is hyper advancing your download speeds, but it’s doing it in a mobile environment.”

The new collaboration has attracted the attention of the largest transit system in metro Atlanta.

Although MARTA has no role in the shuttle testing, the transit agency’s CEO, Jeffrey Parker, attended the unveiling this past week to get a first-hand look at how the partnership is going.

Parker said MARTA is highly interested in new technologies that can get people around. He also sees autonomous shuttles as one way to help solve some of the regions transportation issues, particularly in helping people who do not live within walking distance of bus and train stations have access to them.

“We recognize that there’s a lot of benefits,” Parker said. “First and foremost, safety is part of that — making sure that the technology that’s deployed on these buses can be deployed not only on autonomous vehicles, but also on larger transit vehicles that we know will probably continue for years to be driven by a bus operator.”

“But, we also see this as a way of providing better first and last mile connectivity and more on demand service in areas that aren’t as dense, but are important. We recognize that equity is a big issue and that technology like this can help us provide more equitable service across the MARTA jurisdictions.”

Construction for former Olympic Tennis Center site redevelopment expected to begin soon

It won’t be too much longer before construction is underway on a mixed-use development that will be located on the former Olympic Tennis Center site near Stone Mountain, according to Gwinnett County’s top economic development official.

Gwinnett County Director of Economic Development Roman Dakare told a group of business leaders who attended a Bisnow forum on redevelopment in Gwinnett this past week that the county will soon break ground on the redevelopment of the site, which is located off U.S. Highway 78 and West Park Place Boulevard in south Gwinnett.

“We expect that property to break ground by the end of the year if not early next year,” Dakare said.

Gwinnett acquired the long vacant property, which was built for the 1996 Summer Olympics, in 2016 and demolished the facility in 2017. The county then hired Fuqua Development, the company that is working on the Exchange at Gwinnett in the Buford area, in late 2020 to redevelop the property.

When Fuqua was picked by county leaders last December to redevelopment the site, officials said it would entail a mixed-use redevelopment that would serve as a “southern gateway” for people driving into the county on Highway 78.

The development will sit on a 26.64-acre property.

HOSPITAL HERO: Mimi Lee, Piedmont Eastside Hospital

The Daily Post is shining a spotlight on the Hospital Heroes in Gwinnett County who are giving their all to provide a high level of essential health care services during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In this edition, we are honoring the late Mimi Lee of Piedmont Eastside Hospital.

This year, the Emergency Nurses Week theme highlights an emergency nurse’s persistence, their passion, their grit. Emergency nurses face any number of challenges during any given day and do not back down. They are willing to face adversity and do what is needed for their patient.

Emergency nurses come back for more day in, day out. They embody the word grit.

Since 1989, the Emergency Nurses Association has recognized the second Wednesday in October as Emergency Nurses Day to honor emergency nurses for their commitment to patient care. In 2001, ENA expanded the celebration to devote an entire week to celebrating emergency nurses, because one day is simply not enough to recognize all contributions made by emergency nurses.

One of those special ER nurses at Piedmont Eastside Medical Center was Mimi Lee. She was an exemplar of the profession and personified the qualities and characteristics of what it signifies to be an Emergency Room Nurse. Mimi died Aug. 17 of this year after a long-term battle with cancer. But not before she returned to work with her beloved team after a short remission from her cancer treatment to care for her community during the COVID pandemic.

Nursing meant the world to Mimi and the ability to care for one more patient was a gift to her rather than a job. Her colleagues and friends here at Piedmont Eastside provided a candle light vigil during her battle and a balloon release after her passing, but Mimi will live forever in our hearts and minds due to her passion, persistence and grit that will persevere within our ER walls eternally.

So if you unfortunately have to visit a local ER next week, tell those caring for you the appreciation you have for them and their profession. Let them know that they are Healthcare Heroes to us all.