As Nicole Love Hendrickson prepares to become the next head of Gwinnett County government, there’s one person who said she’s expecting the commission chairwoman-elect to do well in the role: current Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash.
Hendrickson made history on Tuesday when she defeated Republican David Post and was elected to become Gwinnett’s first person of color, and only the third woman, to be elected as the county’s commission chairman.
“I know that she loves Gwinnett and that she be guided by her desire to do what benefits the County, its people and its businesses,” Nash said. “I anticipate that she will work hard to learn the parts of her role that are new to her, which is a great way to start any new endeavor. I look forward to seeing her successes as (Gwinnett’s) Commission Chair.”
Hendrickson will be the first Black person to serve as county commission chairman, who is the elected head of county government. It is the first elected office she will have ever held.
She said she feels she’s inheriting a county that is well-positioned for future growth — which is is something she sees as one of Gwinnett’s top issues to deal with.
But, who is Nicole Love Hendrickson?
While the 40-year-old mother has no elected experience, she is not coming into the job totally green when it comes to county government. She was the county’s community outreach director for about five years before leaving that job to run for commission chair.
“I know the leadership structure,” Hendrickson said. “I know all of the department heads because I’ve worked with them. I understand how decisions on policy are made. I’ve attended Board of Commissioners meetings, so I know how they work, so yes, I have a strong basis of where I’m starting from.
“It’s not I’m starting from scratch, just out of thin air.”
One of the more well known programs created during during her tenure with the county was the Gwinnett 101 program where residents can learn about how county government works. She also oversaw the county’s youth commission and cultural outreach programs.
A lot of that work has entailed bringing people from different backgrounds together, she said.
“I think that gives me a unique experience and perspective on how we move forward to address some of our challenges because it’s going to take a lot of bipartisanship to start advancing some of the things we want to do, it’s going to take a collective effort,” Hendrickson said.
“I realize there are Republicans that did not vote for me, there’s constituents who did not vote for me, but I realize that in order to address the real challenges, it’s going to take a collective effort. I have experience bringing people to the table, and building consensus and building community and building a platform where voices can be heard and people can have a seat at the table, and we can work toward a unified vision.”
She was also familiar with the Gwinnett County community before she joined the county government. She previously worked with the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services as an associate director for seven years before joining the county government.
Hendrickson said that nonprofit experience will come in handy as the county continues efforts it has begun in recent years to address homelessness in Gwinnett.
“The nonprofit experience has given me into what some of the challenges are of our indigent community, like what does poverty look like to people who are experiencing poverty, what are the challenges with some systemic issues that have created poverty, homelessness, food insecurity and really just looking at it from a policy lens,” she said.
Hendrickson said she plans to use her background in social work and social welfare policy to find ways to “leverage local, state, federal opportunities” to tackle issues related to poverty in Gwinnett County.
“So I think nonprofit gives me that lens to better address those challenges because they’re here and COVID has exacerbated some of that and we’re going to need to address it,” she said. “We can’t ignore it because it’s going to create a deeper divide and that’s just not what we need.”
And, Nash said the county government and nonprofit parts of Hendrickson’s background should help her as she transitions into the role.
“Ms. Hendrickson’s experience with Gwinnett County, and with the Gwinnett Coalition, have given her a head start with building relationships across Gwinnett and beyond,” the current chairwoman said. “Those relationships will be valuable as she advocates for Gwinnett.
“Her time with Gwinnett as an employee also means that she likely begins with a level of trust from employees across the county organization, which will be helpful as she steps into her leadership of the organization.”
One of the first things Hendrickson will have to look at is the county’s budget. It will be an unusual situation because of the way Gwinnett’s financial year works. The financial year is synced with the calendar year, so the budget is being prepared now by Nash, but it won’t be voted on until Hendrickson’s first meeting as chairwoman.
The proposed budget will be unveiled by Nash later this month. Traditionally, time is scheduled with members of the board to review it with staff, ask questions and make suggestions after it is unveiled.
“So, we’re coming in adopting a budget that had been vetted by the previous board, but it is what it is,” Hendrickson said.
Nash pledged with work with Hendrickson and fellow new commission members Kirkland Carden and Jasper Watkins III over the remainder of the year to get them up to speed on the budget and other aspects of county government before they take office. The new commissioners, all Democrats, will also have two fellow Democrats, Ben Ku and Marlene Fosque, who are already on the board, and who helped create the goals the budget was based on.
But there will also be some one-on-one time between Gwinnett’s current chairwoman and its incoming chairwoman to work on the transfer of power..
“I expect to spend time with chair-elect Hendrickson focusing specifically on responsibilities that are unique to the chair position as well as more general topics like finances and infrastructure,” Nash said. “Many of these activities include representing Gwinnett externally at the regional level.”
After all, next year, Hendrickson will be the one building and presenting the county’s proposed budget.