Easily avoiding a runoff with 56 percent of the vote, Charlotte Nash will soon begin her new job as head of Gwinnett County's government.
The Dacula native celebrated her win with friends and family at . Dozens of supporters gathered Tuesday evening to await the results of the March 15 special election.
Though she maintained a comfortable lead throughout the evening, Nash waited until almost all the results were in to claim victory. After thanking her supporters and her husband Mike, Nash made a promise to those in attendance.
“I’m not going to commit to never doing anything you disagree with,” she said. “But I will commit to do the very best job I can.”
believes that Nash will be a great asset for the county.
“I think she is going to make us a great county commission chairman,” he said. “She’s an ethical person. She’s a hardworking person. I’ve known her a long time and she’s always been good to her word.”
echoed Wilbanks’ sentiments.
“I’ve known Charlotte for a while,” Reeves said. “She has ethics -- something this county really needs in this crisis we’ve been through recently.”
Wilbanks and Reeves joined a host of other current and former political leaders including Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway, former county chairman Wayne Hill, , planning commission chair Chuck Warbington and former Gwinnett County commissioner Maron Buice.
“The way I look at this election, we don’t have time to train someone,” Buice said. “We’re in a critical time and we’ve got to have somebody with experience.”
Nash is no stranger to the workings of county governments. A 28-year employee of Gwinnett County, Nash held positions ranging from grant manager to county administrator. Buice, who worked with Nash during his 16 years on the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners, said he is convinced Nash is the right choice to lead the county.
“I don’t believe you could find any better person out here for this job than Charlotte Nash,” he said.
LESSONS FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
Early in the campaign, Nash identified loss of public trust as one of the biggest issues facing the county. During the past few months, Nash has met many citizens who shared her concern.
“The issue of lack of trust with the government was confirmed over and over again,” Nash said. “Sometimes people articulated that specifically and other times it was more of an underlying current that I felt from people. It was almost as if it was in the background with everything.”
Nash said the need to rebuild trust and deal with the effects lack of trust has had on the operation of county government will be top priorities for her administration.
While lack of public trust has been a major concern for voters, Nash said people are upset about other issues as well including the trash plan, taxes, crime, and -- in the Dacula and Lawrenceville areas -- the .
“One of the interesting things I heard across the county overall is that everybody, no matter where they are in the county, feels as if their part of the county has not had enough attention or resources,” she said. “That’s going to be a hard one to deal with.”
Nash said she was somewhat surprised to learn so many citizens felt that way.
“I should have known because every budget season it plays out not only with communities within the county but also within parts of the county government,” she said. “There’s never enough money, even in good times, for everybody to have all that they want and there’s almost always a case where some people feel they’ve been left out in some fashion or the other. It was a bit of a surprise to hear it from almost every single area.”
GETTING TO WORK
Another of Nash’s top concerns as she entered the campaign was the county’s budget situation. Over the past two months, through a series of cost savings measures including , furlough days and a controversial plan to shift the .23 millage rate revenue allocated to pay the 2002 general bond obligation to the general operations fund.
“I’ve gone on record that I cannot support the movement of the millage rate from the bond to the operating fund,” she said. “I think that is going to feed the distrust issue.” Nash said some people see the move as a tax increase rather than a shifting of existing revenue.
“I’ve got some concerns with that,” she said.
Nash said she also has concerns with other steps that have been taken to trim the budget, particularly the implementation of a plan to force county employees to take four unpaid furlough days.
“It’s not that I think it wasn’t necessary. It may very well have been necessary to agree to not pay employees for four holidays,” she said. “My concern is the way it was handled.”
Nash said her understanding is the plan was not discussed with employees in advance.
“Some of them read it in the paper,” Nash said. “That’s just not the way to treat the employees.”
Nash said she believes most employees understand the need to be part of the solution if it is explained to them. However, she worries that employees were not made a part of the decision making process.
“I’m very concerned about the morale of the county employees,” she said. “It’s something that should have been discussed with them in advance. They should’ve had a chance to hear about it before it became public knowledge.”
Nash concedes there may have been reasons why the decision was not more effectively communicated with employees, but still believes an opportunity was missed.
“I just know employees need to feel like their leaders are willing to meet with them face to face and share that kind of news,” she said. “I think the employees can probably come up with some other ideas about how to deal with the budget situation if they are given a chance to do that.”
“It’s just a matter of respect,” Nash added.
As Nash begins working to address morale issues and rebuild trust in county government, she has specific issues she intends to address as soon as possible -- strengthening of the ethics ordinance, overhauling the land acquisition process, pushing for more information to be easily accessible through the web site including the full commission agenda package. Of all the pressing issues though, the budget will take precedence.
“The budget is very important,” Nash said. “From a timing standpoint, it may be the most critical.”
Nash said the county must get the budget balanced and begin working to deal with next year’s finances.
“It’s not going to be any better in 2012,” she said. “We’re still going to have a shrinking tax digest and very difficult decisions to make.”
BEGINNING OF AN ERA
Though Nash has her work cut out for her, she is taking a few moments to enjoy her victory and, despite tough opposition, says she enjoyed the campaign.
“The best part has been the wonderful people I’ve met,” she said.
Nash she was humbled by the amount of support she received and credited her campaign team for her success.
“I just have to give all the credit to the wonderful folks who worked with me on this campaign. They have been just fabulous, such a great group of volunteers,” Nash said. “It was in their hands and they helped me get to this point.”
“I am just so excited for them and so excited for myself too,” she added.
UPDATED MARCH 16