Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson devoted her first State of the County speech to maintaining the “Gwinnett Standard.”
The county’s new chairwoman touched on the need to maintain a high standard of excellence, both during the COVID-19 pandemic, and long after it ends. That includes areas such as housing, addressing food insecurity, economic development, transportation and relations between law enforcement and the community as a whole.
“You may not have heard the phrase the ‘Gwinnett Standard,’ but I can guarantee you’ve felt it,” Hendrickson said. “What’s normal here would be amazing almost anyplace else. What’s ordinary in Gwinnett is extraordinary elsewhere.”
Some of the efforts Hendrickson highlighted in her speech are initiatives the commission has already taken on in the last two months, or were started at the tail end of 2020.
Some of those include the ongoing plans to redevelop Gwinnett Place Mall and the former Olympic Tennis Center site, as well as the new Police Citizens Advisory Board that was established in January.
Hendrickson said the Gwinnett County Police Department has held CALEA accreditation — something only 4% of the nation’s more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies hold — since 1993.
“And we can still do better,” Hendrickson said. “We’re committed to listening to our community. So this year, with the support of our leadership, we established a Police Citizens Advisory Board to take feedback from residents and inform future policy.
“And we know the job is more than just responding to crime. It’s about preventing crime, too. Many factors that are linked to crime — factors like poverty, substance abuse, mental health challenges and lack of education — can and should be addressed before a crime is ever committed.”
The chairwoman also said she is “encouraged by the prospect of identifying strong, affordable housing solutions” through the county’s ongoing housing study and that she is excited about an effort to give disadvantaged businesses an opportunity to do business with the county.
“We will employ every strategy available to us to close the racial wealth gap and increase household median income through workforce development and entrepreneurship opportunities,” Hendrickson said. “And, I look forward to people coming from around the world to visit our innovative, groundbreaking research and development sites, like Rowen and the Water Tower.”
Hendrickson’s speech also included a video featuring Commissioners Marlene Fosque, Ben Ku, Kirkland Carden and Jasper Watkins III talking about some of the projects the county has underway to address various issues in the community.
“There are injustices and inequities in our community that we must tackle with the same resolve and standards we use to address challenges like water quality and public safety,” Hendrickson said.
Carden talked about the Gwinnett Entrepreneur Center, which is expected to open this spring in Lawrenceville, as well as the county’s Small Business Assistance Program that was launched last year to help smaller businesses hurt by the pandemic stay open.
Ku talked about the ongoing Interstate 85 Corridor and Bus Rapid Transit studies, and said the county must look at multi-modal options to address Gwinnett’s transit needs. Voters rejected referendums designed to support transit expansion in 2019 and 2020, although last year’s referendum lost by a very narrow margin.
County commissioners are expected to put another referendum on the ballot at some point in either 2022 or 2024 when general election ballots will include a governor’s race and a presidential race, respectively.
“Transit must be part of Gwinnett’s future to keep our progress from grinding to a halt,” Ku said. “Identifying our residents wants and needs is the next step in keeping our county moving forward.”
Watkins talked about the county’s partnership with the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments to open a mass COVID-19 vaccination site in the former Sears at Gwinnett Place Mall. He also said the county needs to work on helping healthcare officials in their efforts to encourage people to get vaccinated.
“We must educate and reassure people of all backgrounds that this vaccine is safe and effective,” Watkins said. “It’s our job to reach people where they are, in their language, and inform them that this vaccine is our best chance to save lives.”
And, Fosque talked about efforts to address homelessness and housing insecurity in the county. She mentioned Project Reset, an effort she and Chief Magistrate Judge Kristina Blum to help families facing eviction during the pandemic stay in their homes by working with property owners.
Hendrickson called on community leaders around the county to become the “standard bearers” in a team effort to help ensure Gwinnett provides quality services to all members of the county’s community.
“The Gwinnett Standard rallies us behind one common purpose — to see this community achieve the remarkable, dynamic success we’ve all grown to expect,” Hendrickson said. “This is a time of need, but it’s also a time of great opportunity. We have fought through a difficult year, and though the journey isn’t over, a new horizon stretches before us.
“Despite the challenges we face, I have never been more hopeful about Gwinnett’s future than I am today. With the Gwinnett Standard of excellence as our foundation we are strong, and we are resilient.”