Another Tuesday, another tumultuous meeting of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners.
Commissioner Tommy Hunter left early again, ducking out before protesters lined up to denounce his controversial Facebook posts. For the second straight meeting, they carried on without him — but there were plenty of fireworks, and a bit of Atlanta-related intrigue, before he left this time.
The uproar shows no signs of slowing down.
“It’s growing bigger,” protester Art Smith said as the clock approached 10 p.m. “And it’s going to get bigger than this. I can tell you.”
As the regular business of the 7 p.m. meeting took place and the other 50 or so gathered protesters waited for the open comment period, Teddy Murphy — a young, vocal member of the Gwinnett County Democratic Party — added a new twist to the protests that have persisted since Hunter’s Jan. 14 Facebook post calling civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis a “racist pig” and referring to Democrats as “Demonrats.”
Murphy took the opportunity Tuesday to speak during the public hearing for every proposed development or rezoning in Hunter’s district. As Murphy spoke at length about a senior living development proposed near Snellville, Commissioner John Heard decided he’d heard enough.
He said Murphy was “making a mockery” of the process, making both the county and Murphy himself “liable” if the board’s decisions were challenged in court. Millions of dollars were involved in the proposals, Heard said.
“You’re wading into a deep, deep, deep pond,” he said.
There was an uproar from the protesters gathered in the auditorium, and Murphy responded by attacking Hunter.
“We have a complete and total racist that is on this Board of Commissioners,” Murphy said.
Board Chairman Charlotte Nash pounded her gavel to quiet the crowd, saying the meeting at that point was “not just about one individual on the board” but “the appropriate legal procedure that has to be followed.”
“It’s going to be like this,” he said. “I would not be here today if Commissioner Hunter did not call John Lewis a racist pig.”
Tuesday night’s meeting came a week after Hunter suddenly left a Board of Commissioners meeting just as protesters were beginning to speak during a public comment period. Hunter’s camp said he had a “business appointment” that day but added that he planned to skip out on public comment periods going forward because the protesters were “taking away from other individuals who have other concerns.”
Hunter indeed left Tuesday night’s meeting early, with several agenda items and the open public comment period still remaining. The crowd jeered.
Shortly after Hunter left, the board adopted several tweaks to the county’s 2011 ethics ordinance. Among the changes was an addition of language that would allow the ethics board to hear multiple complaints at the same time.
The ethics board is in the process of being formed for the first time ever to hear an ethics complaint filed against Hunter.
Thus far, two of the five appointees to the ethics board have been made. The Gwinnett Bar Association appointed local attorney David Will, and the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office has appointed a grand juror named Terri R. Duncan.
Appointments from Hunter himself, the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia and Gwinnett’s Board of Commissioners are yet to come.
Nash said Tuesday she has “a few potential folks” in mind and that the board could make its appointment as soon as its next meeting.
“As you might expect,” she said, “this is not necessarily something that people are raising their hands and volunteering for.”
Protesters spoke for more than an hour Tuesday night after the public comment period finally began around 9:15 p.m.
Hours earlier, a different kind of protest was attempted, too.
Signs reading “Kasim Reed Needs to Resign” were spotted on several seats throughout the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center auditorium. The signs referencing the mayor of Atlanta were then picked up by two men who declined to identify themselves to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution photographer.
The men were not believed to be county employees and Seth Weathers, a spokesman for Hunter, later said he wasn’t responsible for placing the signs. Weathers has been engaged in a war of words with Reed since last week, when the mayor sent a letter to United Consulting inquiring about Hunter’s employment status.