Gwinnett County’s biggest issue for its next county commission chairman to address varies depending on which candidate for the office you ask.
Republican nominee David Post said he sees public safety as the county’s biggest issue.
“I want to make Gwinnett County a safe haven for all citizens and businesses,” he said.
Democratic nominee Nicole Love Hendrickson, however, said addressing the county’s anticipated future growth is the top issue.
“We have to plan now for our future,” she said.
The debate touched on some topics that have arisen, not just in Gwinnett but also nationally, in recent years, such as policing and affordable housing, but also on more recent issues such as long lines for early voting and a new economic development tax showing up on property tax bills.
Post and Hendrickson are running to fill what will be an open commission chairman seat and replace retiring Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, who has led the county’s government for the last decade.
Post is a retired sheriff’s deputy and security consultant who has decades of experience in the public safety and security field. He said he decided to run for chairman because he believes his business background — he has run a security and management business — can help the county in a post-COVID-19 economy.
Republican Laurie McClain and Democrat Kirkland Carden weighed in on the big issues facing District 1, including the looming issue of dealing with the impact of COVID-19.
“I’m now semi-retired and want to continue serving, for my two daughters and four grandchildren who all live in Gwinnett County, and of course my community,” he said. “We are facing many economic challenges as a result of the COVID-19 impact, and I believe that I have the business experience and acumen to attract new businesses, which will drive revenue without increasing taxes for our citizens.”
Hendrickson is Gwinnett County’s former community outreach director, having overseen programs such as Gwinnett 101 and the Gwinnett Youth Leadership Commission. She said she decided to run for chairman because she believes other communities across the U.S. that will begin to look more like what Gwinnett does today will look to the county to see how it has addressed its growth and diversity.
If Hendrickson is elected, she would make history as the first African-American person to serve as the head of Gwinnett County’s government.
“I am running for chairman because I have spent more than a decade driving decisions that improve our county and wellbeing of our residents,” she said. “I am a part of Gwinnett’s success story. As a young professional, a community leader and a mother, not only do I represent the changing demographics, but I value having a strong and healthy community where I am raising my son.
“I also believe in building an inclusive county where different voices are valued and our diverse residents have a seat at the table.”
With the COVID-19 situation in Georgia appearing like it will stretch to at least this fall, candidates in the Republican and Democratic primaries for county commission District 3 are offering their views on how Gwinnett County should handle its post-pandemic recovery.
As for what they see as the big issues facing the county, and what they would do to address them, the candidates having their own differing views.
As part of his plan to address public safety, Post said he would make it his No. 1 priority as chairman. He sees public safety as having a spillover affect that can benefit economic development.
“This is a time to gain understanding and cooperation with all related departments and the cities of our county, to drive the business opportunities to increase the county revenue and reduce the individual tax burden on our citizens,” Post said. “If we get the public safety element right, the rest of the business plan will follow with the correct management and relationships. This also fits my plans for economic development of our depressed areas within the county.”
But, Hendrickson said there are several areas the county needs to look at to address future growth. These areas range from planning and zoning to roads, stormwater and sewer systems, she said.
Improving land use and zoning policies is key to that, according to Hendrickson.
“Every zoning decision has an effect on transportation, housing options, our school system and our environment,” she said. “As growth occurs, we need to put the infrastructure in place so that it is well-managed. We also have to plan for an upgrade our aging infrastructure which includes our stormwater, roads, sewer system.
“And last, we need to have a comprehensive transportation system in place; one that addresses our traffic congestion, improves mobility throughout the county, increases transit options for residents, and connects us to the region. Being the 2nd most populous county in the state, we have to make the right investments to improve transit in our county.”
Hendrickson also said the county’s voters need to pass the transit referendum that is appearing on the Nov. 3 ballot alongside the chairman’s race.
If you ask the candidates running for the three open Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners seats whether they will vote in favor of the county's transit referendum, you'll get both yeses and nos.
But, there is another issue Gwinnett County’s next commission chairman or chairwoman will have to deal with: the COVID-19 fallout.
Post said improving safety in all areas of the county, whether it be parks or business and retail areas, will help the county’s economy recover from the pandemic. He also said the county will have to look at where resources are best used to help the community recover.
“There is no magic wand but hard work, great communication and well thought out programs will help do this,” Post said. “As commission chair, I would examine the current, and proposed heavy expenditure plans to ensure that they are the best fit and benefit to our citizens.
“I believe that by investing in our existing, depressed areas, e.g. Gwinnett Place Mall, we can attract businesses that will provide revenue without us having a major capital outlay, as the foundations are all already in place.”
Hendrickson said she thinks the county’s Triple A bond rating and budget planning done by Nash and county finance staff over the last decade have positioned the county to whether the economic impact of COVID-19.
“My plan is to adopt a similar budget process while building on the success of providing world class services like water and sewer, roads, parks and public safety,” she said. “We also need to address the devastating impact COVID has had on our small businesses, our families living below the poverty line, and the strain this has put on our non-profit community.
“Building alliances with public and private sector partners can help us strengthen our ability to serve these communities. I also believe we should explore ways to fund these shortfalls through federal relief such as CARES Act funding, to help mitigate the likelihood of this happening again.”