What should be on Gwinnett’s to-do list? County political candidates respond.Gwinnett's Historic Courthouse in Lawerenceville ( Photo By Hans JE/ CC BY-SA 2.0)
By Maggie Lee
The the folks running to replace Gwinnett’s outgoing county commission chair and outgoing sheriff — plus the incumbent DA and his challenger — got questions about infrastructure, policing, sentencing and more at a forum this week.
Democrats, inspecting the party’s strong showings in 2016 and 2018, think this is the year Gwinnett’s top local offices flip blue.
It’ll depend on how voters judge these candidates:
County Commission Chair
Democrat Nicole Love Hendrickson and Republican David Post both want to chair the Gwinnett County Commission. It’s the county’s top elected job, and involves running commission meetings, proposing a budget and representing Gwinnettians countywide.
Love Hendrickson said that the county’s got to focus on infrastructure because demographers project that Gwinnett’s going to add some half-million more people in the coming decades.
“We absolutely need to invest in as well as prioritize our infrastructure,” she said. The county needs to update its land use plan — a kind of a map about where roads, homes, stores and other types of buildings will go in the next 40 years.
“We’re going to have to focus on how we’re going to manage our growth over time, where we’re going to house people,” Love Hendrickson said. “We have to update our zoning and unified development ordinances.”
She said the county has to look at high-density development, and that she hopes Gwinnett voters this year approve a penny sales tax for transit.
Post is not interested in the transit plan that’s going before voters — he says Gwinnett’s population is not dense enough to warrant building a heavy rail line.
“Money has to be spent on infrastructure,” Post said. “But what I would say prior to that, is that community and citizen safety is the number one issue.”
If people don’t feel safe, he said, they’re not going going to use transit or even move companies here. “We need to concentrate on quality of life,” he said.
Republican Luis “Lou” Solis and Democrat Keybo Taylor both want to be sheriff. The Sheriff’s Office runs the county jail, does courthouse security, serves warrants and other functions.
Solis, chief deputy of operations at the Sheriff’s Office, talked about continuing many things that are already going on.
“I’ve built some programs while I’ve been here, for the three years that I’ve been here, and I’ll always continue to find new ways so that I can help the inmates that are here,” Solis said.
To build trust with communities, he said he’d be out among the people, talking, visiting and listening. Solis said deputies do that already, and they would continue, and continue to speak the main languages in use in Gwinnett. He also said he’d ask for external review of the office’s diversity and of its de-escalation methods.
The two candidates split over the 287(g) program, an agreement between the Gwinnett Sheriff’s Office and the federal government. Under it, if someone brought into the jail is wanted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, jail officers can detain that person on behalf of ICE.
Solis said he’s for the 287(g) program because it’s a public safety tool.
Taylor, however, compared it to racially profiling black drivers for traffic stops, and he promised to end cooperation ICE on day one in office.
Taylor promised a command staff that’s reflective of Gwinnett’s diversity in race and gender. He also said his department would have a “strong reporting system” for use of force reports.
Tayor, who spent decades serving in the Gwinnett Police Department, also promised to remove officers who shouldn’t be officers.
“We need to get them out, and not from one department to another.” Taylor said. “Revoke their certification so that they’re no longer policing in here in the state of Georgia.”
Republican Danny Porter was first elected top prosecutor in Gwinnett in 1992. Democrat Patsy Austin-Gaston says it’s time for her to hold the office.
Asked what’s the single biggest issue with the criminal justice system in Gwinnett, Austin-Gatson looked at the question broadly.
“I feel that the biggest issue that we have to face as a society is the disparate impact of the criminal justice system on black and brown people,” Austin-Gatson said.
She promised as district attorney to take a “new look” at how to handle things and not just tinker around the edges.
She pointed to the Brooklyn County, New York DA’s Justice 2020 Action Plan, which involves heavy work within the community — and asking if a particular intervention is best for the defendant, the victim and the community.
“Yes [people who commit crimes] have to be held accountable, but we have to think about proactive and creative ways to handle it at this point,” she said.
Porter said the biggest single issue he sees in the criminal justice system in Gwinnett is the increasing level of violence in juvenile crime. The numbers of crimes aren’t increasing, he said, but the percentage of those crimes that are violent is increasing.
He said that at the state level, the juvenile court system doesn’t do a good job of “rescuing” people, or moving them onto a path that takes them out of the criminal justice system. He also said he’s seeing more young gang members in the county.
Gwinnett generally needs to explore alternatives to incarceration, Porter said.
“We have some very successful programs, we have a day reporting center, we have accountability courts, we have pre-trial diversion programs, all which have a very, very low recidivism rate.” Porter said. “We need both on the state level and on the local level to expand those programs.”
The online forum Thursday evening was hosted by the Gwinnett County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc, who have posted the video on Facebook.