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Elections and Politics

Democrat Curt Thompson and why he’s Running for Gwinnett County Commission Chair [Podcast]

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Curt Thompson County Commission

In this episode of Peachtree Corners Life, Rico Figliolini meets with Curt Thompson who is currently running for Gwinnett County Commission Chair. Listen in and get an in-depth look at Curt’s views regarding public safety, smart-city technology, affordable housing and much more.

Resources:
Website: CurtForGwinnett.com

“Job one is working on a transit plan and either implementing it and getting it passed. I also think that we need to seriously look at our County planning infrastructure in general. I think if you’re going to have half a million people move here over the next 10 years, you’d better plan well for that. I think that especially in places like West Gwinnett and South Gwinnett, you’re going to have to look at trying to incentivize a lot of mixed use developments that are more vertical where you’ve got the residential above and the retail at street level.”

Curt thompson

Timestamp:

[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:02:04] – About Curt
[00:03:27] – Defining CIDs
[00:07:26] – Public Transit
[00:13:51] – Running a Campaign Amidst COVID-19
[00:20:23] – Affordable Housing
[00:25:45] – County Makeup before and after election
[00:26:53] – Criminal Justice Reform
[00:28:28] – Economics and Supporting Families
[00:30:39] – Technology in Gwinnett County
[00:34:59] – Public Safety
[00:38:08] – Closing

Podcast transcript

Rico: [00:00:30] Hi, this is Rico Figliolini host of Peachtree Corners Life the podcast, one of several that we do here in the city of Peachtree Corners, and I appreciate everyone showing up, either live to this Facebook live stream, or if you’re seeing this on demand on iHeart radio, Spotify, you’re listening to it later, please put a review on the podcast or wherever you are and share it to people that you like. Peachtree Corners Life, Facebook pages, where this originally is streaming from. And I have a guest tonight that’s involved in politics. We’ll get into that in a couple of minutes and I just want to mention our main sponsor, Hargray Fiber. They are a fiber company here in not only in the Southeast and Georgia, and they’ve been working really close here in Peachtree corners as well as Southeast, but this whole Metro area, they’ve come into over the past few months working with companies and they have fiber optics to be able to peak at companies online fast. Provide bandwidth, provide great customer service, a lot different than the cable guy, let’s call it. They’re really involved in the community, and you’ll see them more involved in the community as they grow in this area. So find out a little bit more about them and their, I think it’s 90 day internet free if you sign up with them you can do that at HargrayFiber.com. So now let’s cut to the chase and let’s talk to our guest tonight. Curt Thompson, who’s a Democrat running for Gwinnett County commission chair. Hey Curt, how are you?

Curt: [00:02:03] Good. How are you?

Rico: [00:02:04] Good, thank you. So tell us a little bit about yourself and, and how, you know, how you got into this. What would you expect from doing this?

Curt: [00:02:13] Sure. Well, I’m a lifelong Gwinnett resident. I was born in Decatur, but that’s just where the hospital was. I started at Camp Creek elementary and I graduated from Shiloh high school. So I grew up in sort of in South Gwinnett for the last, well, for 16 years I was in the state legislature representing parts of Gwinnett County. Two of those I was in the general, state house member. 14 of those I was a state Senator. And then starting last February, I announced I was running for Gwinnett County commission chair and of course I’ve been running hard ever since. I am a lawyer by education and trade, went to Georgia state university law school college of law and I have two law offices. One’s in Norcross in the historic district and one is in Duluth, in an office building near Gwinnett mall.

Rico: [00:02:57] Oh wow. Okay. So you’ve been, you’ve been involved in a lot of different things actually being in the legislator session for 16 years, I think it was.

Curt: [00:03:06] That was, yeah 16.

Rico: [00:03:07] As a house rep. You’ve helped pass legislation to deal with CIDs, which. If you want to explain that you were actually head of one in West Gwinnett I think, correct?

Curt: [00:03:17] What’s now called Gateway 85 it was called Gwinnett village when we founded it, and I helped get the statute pass that actually allowed for CIDs to even happen in Gwinnett County.

Rico: [00:03:27] And CIDs are what?

Curt: [00:03:29] A community improvement districts are sort of, it’s a commercial property organization where commercial properties band together, and it’s, I guess either a quasi governmental organization, if you’re trying to be real lawyerly sounding about it. Where they have the power to tax and the power to offer essentially some municipal services, like especially a lot of it goes into planning and streetscaping and traffic planning is one of the primary things as well as clean up. But they can also spend money on security. I know that the Gwinnett village, which I was a part of, or gateway 85 is now, it had paid security cars and things like that going through the district and you’ll see that as a common thing and other community improvement districts as well.

Rico: [00:04:14] So if most people don’t understand that’s actually a self taxing district. So they help themselves.

Curt: [00:04:19] They add money to the millage rate, and then that money gets spent in that district’s area. Similar to the way a township would, but it’s just, or a city would, but it’s just for commercial properties.

Rico: [00:04:30] So being, so being head of that, you actually had to handle similar, some of the similar things that you, that you possibly would, as a County commissioner would?

Curt: [00:04:38] You do, you handle municipal service issues just like you would. I mean, obviously at the County Commission level, it’s a much bigger issue. And it’s a much bigger budget. But it’s similar issues, municipal services, yes. You have to work with the County when you’re doing, when if you’re a CID, just like a city, you have to work with the counties. And if the CID, like the Gwinnett village is partly in the city of Norcross. So you also have to work with that city as well. They get a board member on the, on the board of the community improvement district actually.

Rico: [00:05:11] All right, so you get, you have to deal with different levels of government to, to do what you need to do there. The reason I pointed that out first is because that is a big deal in Gwinnett County when it first came here and because it was the first, because of what Gwinnett Place mall in that whole area was like some years ago. This was, how long has it been now?

Curt: [00:05:34] That CIDs have been in existence? Probably about, I want to say about 12 years. I have to go back and look. But I would say.

Rico: [00:05:43] So, it’s been a while. I mean, and that whole area has changed. In fact, the Gwinnett place mall, I think is all, it’s being sold or there’s some…

Curt: [00:05:51] Gwinnett Place CID is a, is a different CID from Gateway 85. But yeah, that, that property is currently on the market. And obviously that has changed. And that’s probably one of the things that has to be, forgetting CIDs, you know, dealing with the Gwinnett Place mall areas, probably one of the top priorities that at any County commission chair is going to want to address when they’re, when elected. Certainly it’s one of my top priorities.

Rico: [00:06:19] Because the, that’s a huge expansive land right there. That’s not going to remain that way. Right?

Curt: [00:06:26] I would hope not. You know, I, I would hope that being a dead mall is not something that you really want at, in the Gateway to West Gwinnett.

Rico: [00:06:36] Yeah. I mean, I, it’s been talked about as a multi, multi-use development, maybe something similar to the maybe not quite similar, but like the infinity. The way that area in Duluth is being developed with the convention center, hotels, retail and all that.

Curt: [00:06:53] Yeah. There’s been different talk. I mean, over the years you’ve heard everything from a cricket stadium to youth development to building a shopping center area similar to Avalon just over in the Alpharetta area. I think that the, the main thing you need is, is actual leadership in the area to make sure that something actually happens. Otherwise we’ll be talking about it for the next, you know, we’ve talked about it for six years. 10 years, we could be talking about it and another six to 10 years if we’re just right.

Rico: [00:07:26] For sure. And, well part of that too, I would think is the idea, and we’re going to jump a little bit around here a little bit, but the idea of transportation also coming because that was going to be the first footprint of Marta, or if not Marta…

Curt: [00:07:43] Some regional transit, whether that’s, or something…

Rico: [00:07:46] Or maybe Marta Manage, but whatever it is. But it’d be the first entry to Gwinnett County of mass transit of that nature. Which in the vicinity of that would likely make sense, I guess, but that failed twice, I think already.

Curt: [00:08:00] It failed once in 92 I guess it actually, I think. There was some initial failing vote back in the early seventies, like when Marta was created. Then in 92, it went down hard in a vote. I remember, cause that was one of the first elections I voted in. And then, and of course recently just failed in a special election ballot. I think that you know, one of the lessons from that is to not put something like that on a special election ballot.

Rico: [00:08:27] Yeah. It was the only item on the ballot, which really to me, made no sense. I mean, spent money for no reason and it actually could have…

Curt: [00:08:34] Spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it’s one of those things, if you plan to fail, you’ll fail.

Rico: [00:08:38] Yes, and not for anything it probably could have passed maybe if it went to a general election, but.

Curt: [00:08:44] I think if you had had high turnout, it would’ve passed just because of the nature of Gwinnett County voters. If you’d had a full turnout election, not a special election, I sincerely believe it would pass now, hopefully, you know, it’s a blessing in disguise. It’s hard to think of it that way as someone who supports mass transit. But hopefully we will get a better transit plan. And get a better transit plan passed, you know, soon.

Rico: [00:09:08] And, and it may, I mean, I come from New York and, you know, brand it was on the subways and stuff. I can see the use of mass transit makes a lot of sense, although in a suburb area, people don’t look at it that way. They look at it as just more traffic, more money. It’s billion dollars being spent just to put one station somewhere. And I can understand that versus let’s say light rail or other forms of transportation that’s less expensive.

Curt: [00:09:36] But all of that, even when you say light rail I think that, yes, the heavy rail is expensive and I think that we need to seriously look at whether or not, you know, you were mentioning you’re from New York, so you, if you look at the long island rail. Going out, waiting on the suburbs. Cause if you go all the way out to Smithtown on the other end of the Island, which the long island rail does. You know, that that’s a pretty sizable distance. Or if you even look at the Boston area rapid transit or Washington DC’s transit, it goes way out into the suburbs. That doesn’t mean you have the heavy rail always going way out into the suburbs. That’s not how every system is designed. I do think that light rails and bus rapid transit are probably more cost effective, although, you know, when you’re committing to doing that instead of heavy rail, you’re also committing to having transfer stations every time you connect to the Marta system, it would have to be, because you’d be changing rail lines.

Rico: [00:10:26] Right. So transit hubs and, and maybe if the, I mean that’s almost scary to see. Cause if it’s just a transit hub and not development around it as part of that scheme, if you will?

Curt: [00:10:39] Well, I mean, I think it can be built. I think you just have to be very intentional about it. And, and every, every large transit metropolitan transit system has transfer stations. It just means that if you’re going to emphasize bus rapid transit or light rail when you connect to the, to the heavy rail system, those will always be a transfer station.

Rico: [00:11:00] So do you foresee yourself then as a proponent of this as a County commission chair to be able to like be an advocate for mass transit in Gwinnett County?

Curt: [00:11:10] I’ve been an advocate when I was a state Senator, I was an advocate when I was a state rep. Before that, I had been an advocate on the campaign trail. That would be my hope. It’s not my decision. It would be my hope that you know, I say, Lord willing and the Creek don’t rise, that this County commission would decide to put it on the November ballot so that when I’m running for office in November, assuming that, you know, if I win the primary running in November. That it’s on in the ballot and passes. And then it’s my job to do the best job possible of implementing that plan and updating it as soon as things change. And I think that, that, you know, these plans are living, breathing documents and I think that you will have to update them over the 10, 15, 20 years of their life span or whatever the life span of the agreement is. As you actually find the, as you know, the actual reality of the half million people that are going to move here in the next 10 years according to the ARC come in, where, where do they actually move and what are the actual traffic needs? So you’ll see some updating, but it would be my hope that I would be implementing something, if not one of, job one is to get something ready for a ballot initiative. I guess that would be 2022 if you’re trying to put it on the general election ballot, but, but getting something on the ballot. Well, that would be the earliest you could do it. I’ve heard arguments for and against that particular date, but that would be the earliest if you don’t do it this November.

Rico: [00:12:33] Yeah. So being able to do that now, whether, whether it gets on the ballot or not at this point is, is questionable right? I mean, our primary has moved from April to May to June. Hopefully it will happen in June. I mean, at some point they have to hold it, right?

Curt: [00:12:51] At some point they have to decide. I think that legally I think the chairman, the current chair, chairman Nash had wanted the decision made in April. That’s what I recall. I think that legally the lawyers have said you could wait as late as July or August and still get it on the November ballot in terms of meeting all the legal notice requirements. I don’t think, I guess, you know, one of the lessons from the last referendum was, is that it had a very short ramp window to run a campaign, and so I can understand why you wouldn’t want to do that at the last minute. But legal, you know, what is it, what’s legal and what’s advisable are not necessarily the same thing. April is better, especially if you’re trying to launch a significant campaign. Of course, doing something in the middle of a pandemic is, doing anything in the middle of a pandemic always sends a challenge, I would think. There wouldn’t be a lot of a campaign ramped up in April, I think, even if they voted on it at the next meeting.

Rico: [00:13:51] Yeah. So it may be a problem actually. So let’s, let’s segue right into that, because running a campaign is really difficult to begin with. When you have, how many candidates actually?

Curt: [00:14:03] I guess there’s eight total. There are five Democrats, and apologies if I miscounted someone, but five, and then there are three Republicans. Total of eight.

Rico: [00:14:14] Do you guys have a primary?

Curt: [00:14:15] We do. Yeah. It’s a partisan race, so there’ll be the June 9th primary will be the Republican, and it’s the general primary. It’s also the presidential primary on the democratic side.

Rico: [00:14:29] Whoever wins June 9th is the commissioner or the chair?

Curt: [00:14:32] No, whoever wins June 9th goes on, whichever Republican wins June 9th and whichever Democrat wins June 9th, go.

Rico: [00:14:40] Okay, that’s…

Curt: [00:14:41] November ballot, because it’s a partisan race. It’s not like a judgeship that’s said, we do have, you know, Georgia has the 50% plus one rule. So if no Democrat gets 50% plus one, it goes into I want to say it’s a July runoff, July runoff, and the same on the Republican side. They’ve got three candidates. They can…

Rico: [00:15:01] Well, that’d be, that’s easier for three, maybe five is a little bit more difficult to get the plurality. Right. How has it been running a campaign? I mean, what are you doing?

Curt: [00:15:15] You still go to events. There was a, I think there was about a week or two. We’re honestly, nothing was happening and I think most people weren’t. And so everyone was trying to adjust. Now instead of going to the Gwinnett NAACP meeting, you go to the Gwinnett NAACP zoom meeting. It’s a lot of zoom meetings. And so it’s not nearly as impressive to be checking in from your kitchen taking a picture of a computer screen where there’s a screen, you know, a grid of nine people on it or what, or however many people are there. That’s not nearly as impressive as checking in at an actual event with an actual selfie with actual people. But, but it’s a lot of zoom meetings. You can’t really canvas. So things shift to phone banking and you worry about the mail because you know, the postal service has been affected by the pandemic as well. And so you worry about campaign mail and whether that adjust, you have to adjust your schedule for campaign mail and things like that. Other than that, it stays the same. I will say that you also, you know, campaigns are not free. They cost money to run. I tell folks that any campaign, campaigns are not run on love and affection, you know, and so being in the middle of a pandemic with the economy shutdown is not a great time to be what we call dialing for dollars. You know, when you’re, especially because Democrats have a stereotypically, you know, if you look at say, whether that’s Bernie Sanders up to Joe Biden up to anybody. The Democrats are much more dependent on their small dollar donations from individuals because they don’t get, we don’t get as many of the big pack contributions, and those are definitely, it becomes harder to justify that. You know, you can’t go out and ask folks that don’t have a job to give a campaign contribution.

Rico: [00:16:59] No. And the primary is probably, it’s not as much of a problem because the, if you, if you win your primary income, the November election with Biden, likely the one that’s going to be on the ballot.

Curt: [00:17:10] And he is the presumptive nominee on the democratic side, and Trump is obviously going to be, it’s got to be Trump-Biden and…

Rico: [00:17:16] Right. Unless something further happens. I mean, right now.

Curt: [00:17:19] If something bizarre happens and you know, knock on wood, I don’t want to jinx it because we’ve had a lot of bizarre happen this year.

Rico: [00:17:27] Yes, we have. We have absolute power and we have all sorts of things going on.

Curt: [00:17:33] We have people that think they have absolute power. When they want credit for something and then suddenly it’s everybody else’s responsibility.

Rico: [00:17:40] Right? So you have a bit of that going on. Then we have 6 million absentee ballot applications going out for this one. Right. So lots of things going went on. And I know, I forget the percentage. It was a really small percentage of voters that voted absentee, I’d imagine this time around, and maybe way more.

Curt: [00:17:59] A lot higher, I would assume if they’d mailed out applications to everybody. You know, some percentage, it’ll be a much higher than it was now. They also moved the primary, my knowledge, I’ve never moved to primary in the middle of an election and we moved the presidential primary has been moved twice now. Right now, the presidential primary is not even competitive because Bernie Sanders has conceited and endorsed Biden, but that may be a wash on that side. But we’ve moved the general primary that all of us run in for the local races and state legislative and congressional races. But I still think that even with that being moved, there’ll be a lot more vote by mail, just because of what’s going on.

Rico: [00:18:39] Do you think that’s a detriment to Democrats?

Curt: [00:18:44] Well…

Rico: [00:18:45] In the primary, it doesn’t matter.

Curt: [00:18:46] In the primary it doesn’t matter. Because, I suppose if we had, you know, you saw what happened in Wisconsin where it was really about whether or not a conservative right wing judge on the Supreme court there would get reelected or not. And he did lose. For those that don’t know, they’re, he did lose in spite of the Republicans going to court to take, to, to force the election in the middle of the pandemic. But since our election, the general will not. Vote by
mail increase, may increase the turnout in the primary on the Republican and the democratic side, I would assume. You know, it may, you know, we won’t know. We’ve never done it this way, so you don’t know till you get there. But that’s a working assumption, but we don’t know what, you know what we’re going to have in November. If you have a double dip of this pandemic, which there, the scientists are talking about the fact that it could, if it is seasonal. Remember the Spanish flu lasted three years. There wasn’t the 1918 flu that was just in 1918, it was still around for 1920.

Rico: [00:19:49] Well there were no vaccines.

Curt: [00:19:51] If nothing, a vote by mail election in November, you know, or, or a, a significant absentee vote in November. We’ll see. We don’t know yet, but you, the, and I’m not sure in a state as narrowly divided as Georgia who that favors the betting money is that, you know, certainly the Republicans, they get favors the Democrats, by the way they talk about it. I’m not as certain of that, but I also don’t know if we’re going to have that happen in the general we’re, we’re dealing with it in a primary.

Rico: [00:20:23] Right. So let’s talk about as if, as if everything’s going to be fine and normal and we’re going to be just gung ho about this. And we’re gonna, you know, everyone’s going to be doing the right thing down the line. And elections come in November and we do the elections. But, so let’s talk about some of the other issues. We talked about transportation a little bit. We talked a little bit, we touched on development with the CID. Is there anything particularly you want to add to either one of those?

Curt: [00:20:56] Well, I mean, I think that, you know job one is working on a transit plan and either implementing it and getting it passed. I also think that we need to seriously look at our County planning infrastructure in general. I think if you’re going to have half a million people move here over the next 10 years, you’d better plan well for that. I think that especially in places like West Gwinnett and South Gwinnett, you’re going to have to look at trying to incentivize a lot of mixed use developments that are more vertical where you’ve got the residential above and the retail at street level. It doesn’t have to be high rise is like Midtown Atlanta, but at least you know, something that looks more like downtown Decatur or even Bindings areas.

Rico: [00:21:42] Like seven stories, six stories. Eight stories, something like that.

Curt: [00:21:45] Something like that.

Rico: [00:21:46] You also mentioned about affordable, affordable housing there’s some philosophies on that. How do you incentivize that? So then the developer will provide reasonable rental for people that, you know, they’re not on a living wage, but they have to live in the area maybe.

Curt: [00:22:03] Well to have, whether it’s affordable housing or workforce housing or senior housing, I think you do have to incentivize it at some level. Think of what you’re talking about. Some of that may be in speeding up the permitting process. Some of that might be you know, allowing people those height variances. It’s a lot harder to get a height variance in Gwinnett County than it is in Cobb or Dekalb or Fulton in terms of to go vertical. Because the only way you’re going to see the cost of land is only gonna go up. I mean, you may have this. The, the pandemic recession or whatever they’re going to call this is probably gonna flat, you know, flatten out some real estate costs. But in general, real estate’s going. You know, the days of having, if you’re looking for affordable housing, being everybody on a half acre or three quarter acre lot, that’s not going to happen. You’re talking about bringing condos in and tent more counterparts and things in the mixed use development, especially you would want that in the area where they’re going to build the Amazon plant in South Gwinnett because otherwise there’s folks who are just going to work in the Amazon plant and live in Dekalb County where the housing is cheaper and then they get all of the benefits of people living there and shopping there and, and you know, Dekalb gets all the benefits and we’ll just get the traffic in and out.

Rico: [00:23:12] So how do you force developers to do that? How do you?

Curt: [00:23:14] I don’t think you can force it. I think you have to incentivize it. You have to offer either speeding up the permitting process, speeding up rezoning process where necessary. And you probably have to give them, you may have to go to higher density, which means smaller square footage similar to what you have in the city of Atlanta or city of Decatur or some of these townhomes and condominium communities.

Rico: [00:23:38] Okay. All right.

Curt: [00:23:40] To allow for higher density cause once they can have higher density, once they can actually build something with higher density than they can you know, lower the price without necessarily lowering the quality. Cause I don’t necessarily want us to, you know, affordable housing needs to be quality affordable housing and not substandard affordable housing.

Rico: [00:23:58] Right. Because otherwise, I mean, I remember when I was on the planning commission some years back, I mean, you get developers coming in and they would build. High intensity properties, 13 units an acre, maybe, you know, we’re talking about town homes, and then people would just buy it up like 6, 12, 10 of them and then rent them.

Curt: [00:24:16] Rent them and then they bring them up. And that’s not what we’re trying to do, we’re wanting owner occupied stuff or long term renters, not folks that move every six months chasing a $15 rent discount kind of.

Rico: [00:24:28] Yes. And that’s 70…

Curt: [00:24:30] That you really have to look at that.

Rico: [00:24:32] Yeah. All right. So…

Curt: [00:24:35] But it’s really hard to mandate it. I mean, I’m not, there are places that haven’t had mandates like that. I don’t know if that would really work in Georgia’s construction environment. I think you have to look, you know, look at what other folks have done, whether that’s in the city of Atlanta or in Dekalb County or Cobb County.

Rico: [00:24:51] Okay. All right. Listen, it makes sense. And the problem with these things is always, whether you actually mandate it or if you incentivize it, can they get around that? This, there’s always a little give and take there.

Curt: [00:25:04] And you can use things like other areas like Chicago’s use tax increment financing, tax allocation districts. So you can give tax incentives also so that it makes it more affordable for folks to move in because then they have five years. You know, oftentimes it’s done as a, the property taxes phase in over five years so that people have time to essentially grow their income end of the property they’re living.

Rico: [00:25:27] All right. So there are ways to do it and we just need the courage to be able to do that, right?

Curt: [00:25:32] You need courage and leadership and focus. You’ve got to actually be willing to say this is a priority. Make it a priority. Tell your planning commissioners, it’s a priority. Tell your planning department it’s a priority.

Rico: [00:25:45] Do you think the County makeup right now, as far as who’s commissioners right now will be, have the same mindset as you? If you became County chair.

Curt: [00:25:53] You’ve got three seats up for, they’re going to be three new commissioners and every time I think you have an election, like every time you have an appointment to the Supreme court, it changes the makeup of the court entirely. Because it changes how the interpersonal reactions are, so I think that broadly, yes, I would expect there to be more of a focus on affordable quality, affordable housing, and more of a focus on mass transit. You won’t have Tommy Hunter’s leaving, you know, the, I guess, you know, this is the, you know, he’s the NIMBYs NIMBY kind of guy. I mean, there are things I could say, but they’re not sort of, you know, they’re, they’re definitely PG-13, at the very least, you know, but the, but you know, that type of commissioner is going to be gone, you know? That’s not an offense to him necessarily. It’s just saying that no one running for, you know, the current set of seats is going, is of that mindset that I’m aware of.

Rico: [00:26:53] More moderate. As far as justice, criminal justice reform, 287G is, is a big deal with what’s going on now. I know several of the sheriff candidates have said that they, one, they will, they’ll just disregard that because it’s a voluntary thing anyway. What’s your feeling?

Curt: [00:27:14] I think it needs to be abandoned. I think it costs the County money. And you’ll have people say, Oh, well there’s a, you know, the County gets a grant for it but the County is going to get that grant, regardless of whether they, from the federal government, whether they do 287G or not, it’s costing us money that we’re not getting reimbursed for, because that’s an additional expense that that same federal grant could be, could be used for something else. And so, you know I, you know, it’s my hope that whoever’s the next sheriff ends that program because it’s ultimately the Sheriff’s call. If the sheriff doesn’t want to do that I think the County commission needs to look at cutting the sheriff’s, you know, we have the ultimate power of the purse spring, on the purse strings on the County commission side, and they need to take a serious look at either cutting the Sheriff’s department budget or restricting County funds to not be used from that. Make them go get it from Brooke forfeiture money or actually get it from the feds and not get it from the County budget.

Rico: [00:28:13] And from some people that don’t know, 287G is, is the regulation to work with ice detention program right? To that the sheriff actually, his team acts as if they’re ice agents almost.

Curt: [00:28:27] Right.

Rico: [00:28:28] Okay. So as far as economics, supporting families. We’re gonna go through the list real quick, a little bit about middle class, lower middle class, working class. Are there certain policies that come to the forefront for you?

Curt: [00:28:45] I think that the, you know, we talked about, we touched on affordable housing, and that’s one. You know, I’ve, I’ve proposed that the County look at operating or contracting. We’re in some sort of public, private partnership to offer countywide wifi and come forward so that folks don’t have to take their kids to Chick-fil-A or McDonald’s to do their homework. Because nowadays, you know, that’s a real problem is that, you know, not everyone, especially at the lower income strata, can afford. My Comcast bill is 180 a month, and I do not have the premium channels. That’s Internet, TV. And, now granted I have the higher speed internet, but if they’re trying to do it to study, but I don’t have any premium channels. And that’s what it’s costing me. And so that’s the, you know, I can afford that. But that’s serious money for a lot of families. And I think that the County might be able to get a better price for folks and that, and definitely should look at offering that. And I think that we also need to look at our library system. There’s a program in the library system that allows folks to get a high school diploma who aren’t necessarily traditional students, but it’s an actual high school diploma, not a GED. And I think that we need to look at expanding programs like that where possible.

Rico: [00:30:02] Would that be expanded through the Gwinnett school system?

Curt: [00:30:06] No, that that’s through the public library system, which is part of the Gwinnett. The school system is part of the school board that I definitely would love for the school board
and the County commission to coordinate better together. They almost act like they’re on different planets. They don’t talk to each other it seems. At least that’s how it appears. And I wish that there was more cooperation between the two, but ultimately the K-12 stuff is on them, you know. This is just a program that’s offered through the library system, which the Gwinnett County public library is about 80% funded by the County.

Rico: [00:30:39] You were talking about wifi before. What about, 4G networking, there’s a lot of talk about 4G being used. I mean, you know, if you’re talking down the line future, I’m sorry, 5G. The next one will be 6G, but 5G, yes. And that’s what we have in Peachtree Corners on the Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners. It’s one and a half mile track that’s supposed to work. With IOT with, you know, self driving cars and all that.

Curt: [00:31:15] My Rotary club meets over there at the Peachtree Corners City Hall. So I see the track every day or at least once a week.

Rico: [00:31:22] So the, does the, does any, you know, 5G is one thing that’s sort of, let’s call it sexy and stuff, it’s great to have 5G because you need that for self driving cars, IOT. But what, what smart city. Because even counties plan these things out, right? Whether it’s water, whether it’s energy, whether it’s having charging stations for cars, whether it should, using solar, anything. Any ideas that you want to, that you’d like to see planned out over the next decade, let’s say, that would work in that realm?

Curt: [00:31:55] In the technology realm, specifically?

Rico: [00:31:58] Technology, energy.

Curt: [00:32:01] You know, I don’t know if this is where you were going. I mean, I do think that, you know, the countywide wifi that I was talking about would be part of that. I think if we want to ever, you know, we occasionally talk about creating a high tech corridor along 316. It might be nice to actually do more than talk about it and put it as a, you know, a paragraph in a blurb about things we’d like to do but we never actually get around to doing. At least around the Gwinnett Georgia college area. We ought to really look at it and actually trying to implement that. And then you know, I don’t know if this is, you know, what you meant from long range planning, but eventually we’re going to have to address the issue of water, you know, I mean and possibly upgrading the yellow river plant. I mean, the White Hill water treatment plant is sort of worldwide state of the art. There’s not a lot higher you could go with that. But you’ve got the two other, the, the substation down close to where, close to the, to where, Gwinnett, Fulton and Dekab come together. And then you’ve got the yellow river treatment plant that may, you may want to look at upgrading, depending on what the technology available is, you know, and now those are expensive projects that are done through the water department. But, but it took, you know, the reason that things called the Wayne Hill water treatment plan is because Wayne Hill took lead in that area. And I think that someone may have to take you know, in the next 10 to 15 years. And it’s, it’s always cheaper if you can do it sooner than if you do it later. We’re going to
have to address the issue of water and simply asking the courts to let us take more out of the Chattahoochee river is not really a solution because there’s only so much water in the Chattahoochee and eventually that like getting credit for putting water back in the Chattahoochee doesn’t put, it doesn’t put more water actually in the universe. It just gives us more credit for what we’ve done, but it doesn’t put more water in the universe. Or potable water in the universe.

Rico: [00:33:58] Right. But even so, let’s take it a step away for a second. Let’s go back to quickly to development for a second. You were talking about maybe doing six, seven story mid rises to be able to park, you know, the development that’s going to be coming up 85. You know, should they be LED buildings, should they be, you know, you know, should we move towards a more.

Curt: [00:34:23] We’re going to have to move towards a more energy efficient type of construction definitely. And some of that’s going to be market-driven. Some of that’s going to have to be driven by the government. But, it has to happen. I mean, whether you’re looking at it from a global climate change perspective and doing our part to not contribute more to that. To just how do we get the most bang for our buck when it comes to things like water and electricity and land use.

Rico: [00:34:59] Public safety. There’s a lot of security.

Curt: [00:35:03] What the County, you know, that’s the most important thing the County really does, but yes.

Rico: [00:35:07] So do you think that needs to be strengthened a little bit? Where are we with that?

Curt: [00:35:11] You know, the way I’ve usually talked about that is that, you know, we have one of the largest police forces, but we don’t have one of the best response times. And I think that at some point we need to take a look at that and figure out what’s going on. If you just look at it and compare our police force to the only comparable one of it’s size, which is the city of Atlanta. We have a very top heavy police force. We have far fewer people on patrol and a lot more people in headquarters than say the city of Atlanta does, which is the only comparably sized thing. And the only way you’re going to increase response times on calls is if you have more street-level cops. And so I think that we need to look at not just necessarily increasing the size of the force. We have one of the largest forces in the state, but, but how has that force allocated?

Rico: [00:36:08] What about technology? Right now? I know, for example, the city of Peachtree Corners is, is putting out through Georgia Power 15 cameras to, plate recognition cameras and actually to some degree, facial recognition cameras as well within some of the city, the city, a
town center. That recognizes faces and I think they’d be able to count the size of the crowd, if you will. Do you see more technology needs to be rolled out into Gwinnett Police?

Curt: [00:36:39] You know, that runs into a civil liberties issue to be honest. And so you’re always a little bit cautious about that. You know, we had the issue of, first there were traffic light cameras, and then suddenly there weren’t because you couldn’t cross examine a traffic light camera if you wanted to protest your ticket kind of thing. And I think that then it’s, it requires a lot of balancing. I mean, I think that. You know, it’s, it’s wrong for us to say, Oh, well, you can’t do any of that. You know, in a culture where we’re, we always click agree to the terms and conditions without ever reading them, whether it’s Amazon or anything else. We apparently have no problem with sharing our data with corporate America. I think that, that inevitably, some of that’s gonna come. But I don’t know how much of that’s a priority in terms of, you know, and I would have to look at, talk with our police chief, really and see what is really the best, highest, best use of our dollars. I would rather have more street level cops than more cameras taking photographs of people because the idea is to deter crime. All the camera does is catch the criminal, which is, you know, that’s great, but I would like to deter the crime so that it doesn’t happen. And I think that, you do more of that if you have more street-level cops, if you have more patrols, if you even have, depending on the density of the area, you know, foot patrols even.

Rico: [00:38:08] Probably the last question then I’m going to ask you to give, let me know if we’ve missed anything, but just because it’s on your website, it’s last thing on there and I’m wondering how our County commission may be able to help this, and that’s decriminalizing marijuana.

Curt: [00:38:21] Right. So you know, our solicitor’s already decided he’s not going to prosecute it because he says the current hemp statute makes it hard to tell what’s hemp versus marijuana. I think that the city of Atlanta, the city of Atlanta, Clark County. I think city of Clarkston, Dekalb County, several places have decriminalized it to the sense that if you’re a cop for simple possession. Which is, you know, possession of less than an ounce. That they just get, they will issue you a ticket. You don’t go to jail, because to be quite honest, it’s very disparate how this law is enforced. And you know, you, the majority of folks that get arrested and sent to jail, in Gwinnett County on marijuana possession are, the vast majority are people of color. You can’t tell me that, that the vast majority of people smoking marijuana are people of color. It’s just being selectively, like, that’s not how that works. There’s nothing about marijuana that has that, that says a particular race is more likely to use it than other. That’s not how that works.

Rico: [00:39:26] I’m sure if you go to Johns Creek, or other places it’s used a lot.

Curt: [00:39:29] Yeah. So I think that if you gave a, because you know what currently happens could change the moment, either the state legislature changes the hap statute or the, if you ever get a different solicitor that has a different view. And I think that one thing that you should do is just, you know, put that out there, have that be an ordinance so that it can be. Have that be an
ordinance so that they can write a ticket. You still get to have to pay a fine, but you’re not going to go to jail. You’re not going to have to try and figure out what, how to make a thousand dollar bond and it’s not going to disproportionately impact minorities.

Rico: [00:40:02] I think the ticket in city of Atlanta is only 75 or something. It’s a minimal amount.

Curt: [00:40:06] Yeah. I would say something like that. But a lot of cities have gone to that, even in Georgia. And I think that that’s what Gwinnett County should do too, cause it will also save money at the jail, you know. Because to be quite honest, no one who says when they’re a kid, they said, I want to be a cop it’s because they want to go arrest people for smoking weed at fraternity parties. That’s not, what people want to go, that’s not why anyone wanted to become a cop. And then they can focus on human trafficking. They could focus on domestic violence, they could focus on the actual crimes against people, crimes against persons, crimes against property. And so that we actually have violent people in the jails and not folks taking up space in the jail who are there on small drug or small level marijuana offenses.

Rico: [00:40:49] For sure, especially our jails, which I think is somewhat overcrowded as is. All right, so we’ve come.

Curt: [00:40:56] … Bail money and allow the police to focus on more serious crime.

Rico: [00:41:01] Yeah. The violent crime, that makes more sense to me. We’ve come to the end of our time together. So let me ask you, was there anything that we didn’t cover that you’d like to share first?

Curt: [00:41:10] Well just, you know, I got into this race, basically saying, you know, I’m here to ask for your vote, and if you honor me with your vote on election day, if you honor me with your vote on election day. I promise you that I, the one thing I can promise you is that I will fight for you every day in Lawrenceville, just as I fought for you every day in Atlanta in the general assembly. And for those that want to, you know, find out more about the campaign or volunteer for the campaign, they can go to CurtForGwinnett.com.

Rico: [00:41:45] Right, right. Thank you, Curt. I appreciate you coming on the show with me. Everyone, if you need that information, just remember also you should have gotten the mail in ballot application probably a week, week and a half ago,

Curt: [00:42:04] And they should be mailing them out starting the 20th to 24th of April, they should go.

Rico: [00:42:09] Yeah, I know. We got it last week and it’s really easy. There’s three things you have to do on it. Just check the information, sign it, and either mail it back or you literally can take a picture of it and email it from your phone. So it’s, you know, and then you get the ballot. Then you got to fill out the ballot. So don’t forget that.

Curt: [00:42:26] Pick whether you want a Democrat or Republican or a nonpartisan ballot.

Rico: [00:42:29] That’s right. That too. All right, cool. So appreciate you coming on, Curt. Thank you for, you know, sharing the issues of, where you believe in what you, what you want people to know about you. And everyone just remember June 9th is the election day, so pay attention to what’s going out there.

Curt: [00:42:49] If you’re mailing in your ballot. It has to be received by June 9th. Don’t be mailing a ballot on June 9th that won’t.

Rico: [00:42:54] No. Yes, it has to be postmarked or received?

Curt: [00:42:57] Received June 9th. So that means, you know, I wouldn’t be mailing it. Please don’t mail the ballot after June 1st cause we don’t know how slow the. Mail is sometimes quick, mail is sometimes not. I would be mailing it earlier not later.

Rico: [00:43:08] It’s good that you said that, cause most people might think it has to be postmarked that.

Curt: [00:43:11] In some States it is. So if you’ve moved here from somewhere else, postmark governs in places like Arizona and California. It doesn’t govern here.

Rico: [00:43:20] Okay. So make sure you mail it a week ahead at least.

Curt: [00:43:22] Yes.

Rico: [00:43:24] All right, good. Thank you, Curt. I appreciate you. Hang in there with me for a minute and then we’ll just sign off right now. We’re going, you know, if you’re getting this on the feed later, just leave a comment in the box if you’d like. If you’re getting this on podcast, iHeartRadio, Spotify, leave a review, LivingInPeachtreeCorners.com is where you can find more information. Thank you.

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Elections and Politics

Official drop boxes available for absentee/advance by mail ballots

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official ballot drop boxes

Eight official ballot drop boxes are now in place across Gwinnett County to provide eligible voters with a new way to return absentee/advance by mail ballots for the June 9 Presidential Preference Primary, General Primary, and Nonpartisan Election. No postage is necessary on ballots placed in the drop boxes. The secure drop boxes are monitored by video and available 24/7 at these locations:

Voter Registrations and Elections Beauty P. Baldwin Building, 455 Grayson Highway, Suite 200 Lawrenceville

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Community

Multiple options to cast your ballot for the June 9 elections

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early voting Peachtree Corners

Voters are not limited to Election Day to cast their ballot in the June 9 Presidential Preference Primary, General Primary, and Nonpartisan Election.

Eligible voters may vote advance in person every day, including weekends, through June 5 at the Gwinnett Voter Registrations and Elections Beauty P. Baldwin Building, located at 455 Grayson Highway in Lawrenceville. The office is open for advance voting Monday through Saturday from 8:00am to 5:00pm and Sunday from noon to 7:00pm.

Voters can also cast their ballots advance in person every day, including weekends, through June 5 at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds, located at 2405 Sugarloaf Parkway in Lawrenceville (use the Davis Road entrance) Monday through Saturday from 7:00am to 7:00pm and Sunday from noon to 7:00pm.

Satellite voting will be offered daily from Saturday, May 30 through Friday, June 5 from 7:00am to 7:00pm at four satellite locations.

  • Bogan Park Community Recreation Center, 2723 North Bogan Road, Buford
  • George Pierce Park Community Recreation Center, 55 Buford Highway, Suwanee
  • Lenora Park Gym, 4515 Lenora Church Road, Snellville
  • Lucky Shoals Park Community Recreation Center, 4651 Britt Road, Norcross

To check the status of your voter registration and see a sample ballot, visit My Voter Page at mvp.sos.ga.gov. For more information or to stay up-to-date with elections in Gwinnett, follow @GwinnettGov on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram or visit GwinnettElections.com.

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Elections and Politics

Lee Thompson run for Gwinnett Commission Chair [Podcast]

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Lee Thompson for County Commission Chair

With the election coming closer, Rico Figliolni sits down with County Commissioner Chair Candidate Lee Thompson Jr. in this episode of Peachtree Corners Life podcast. Here, they discuss issues on transportation, affordable housing, immigration, and ethics in politics. Hear about Lee’s history in Gwinnett County and his views on where the county is going.

Resources:

Website: https://www.leeforgwinnett.com

“I believe this is an extremely important election when we come in as a County commission in January of next year, you’re going to have five county commissioners and the longest-serving county commissioners are going to have two years tenure. I believe it’s very important that the person who’s in the chairman’s position as the leader of that commission has a good and solid understanding of local government in the issues that have to be addressed by the local government.”

Lee Thompson Jr.

Topics can be listened by timestamp:

[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:03:10] – Lee’s Background
[00:05:21] – Political Changes in the County
[00:09:13] – New Challenges for a County Commissioner Chair
[00:12:42] – Working with Education
[00:14:48] – Property Taxes
[00:16:07] – Re-Opening the State
[00:19:56] – Transportation
[00:22:45] – Affordable Housing
[00:25:51] – Immigration
[00:28:12] – Ethics and Transparency
[00:31:43] – Campaigning During COVID-19
[00:35:13] – Election Issues
[00:37:56] – Closing

Podcast Transcription

Rico: [00:00:30] Hi everyone, this is Rico Figliolini host of Peachtree Corners Life. I appreciate you guys joining us in the city of Peachtree Corners. We’re doing our podcast as usual, socially safe. Not in the studio that we normally would be like Atlanta Tech Park, where we’ve been doing a lot of podcasts before. COVID-19 hit. We have a special guest today. We’re going to be discussing a bit about politics in Gwinnett County, but before we get there, I do want to just say thank you to our sponsor Hargray Fiber. They’ve been a sponsor of the family of podcasts that we do not only Peachtree Corners Life and Capitalist Sage, but the other shows that we do as well. So I want to say thank you to them. You can find out more information about Hargray Fiber, which is a leading fiber optic company in the Southeast. They provide fiber cable. They’re not the cable guy, they’re not Comcast, they’re not AT&T, they’re right in your community. When they come into Peachtree Corners, or Conyers, or Valdosta, they are right in their offices there. You don’t call up an 800 number that’s going to be like somewhere in LA LA land. Your tech support’s right in your community. They’re a great place that provide not only the consumer side, but the business side, which is what HargrayFiber.com does. So check them out. They have a 90 day free internet connection available, and also some tools that can get you online. Free tools that can help you do your work online in teleworking. If you’re getting challenges somewhere else, they’re the guys to go to. HargrayFiber.com so check them out. Now to our guest, Lee Thompson. Lee, welcome.

Lee: [00:02:08] Thank you very much. I appreciate you having me.

Rico: [00:02:10] I appreciate you coming out. I know, coming out, see? Everyone’s, everyone’s out here doing campaigning in the virtual world, right?

Lee: [00:02:20] I walked down the hall to another room, so.

Rico: [00:02:23] That’s funny. They set you up and you could just keep going. Was it Biden that was doing the virtual tour. I was wondering how he was going to do that from the basement, but it’s amazing. Everyone’s Zooming. Is that, that’s a new thing for you or not?

Lee: [00:02:42] Well, it certainly was before this pandemic started. But, now that we’ve been doing that, I’ve been, I think in three or four city council meetings that way. I’ve been in three or four forums that way. So I’ve done it quite a bit now.

Rico: [00:02:56] Cool. So for those that don’t know Lee Thompson. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about you? Obviously I think there’s six or seven democratic candidates running in the primary.

Lee: [00:03:08] Five Democrats and three Republicans,

Rico: [00:03:10] Okay five Democrats, okay, cool. So tell us a little bit about yourself and your background and stuff.

Lee: [00:03:16] Sure. I’m a lifelong resident of Gwinnett County. Grew up in Lawrenceville, attended Central Gwinnett High School, after that I obtained a degree, undergraduate degree from Mercer University. I have a law degree from the University of Georgia Law School. I have lived in Lawrenceville throughout my life and have practiced law in Lawrenceville since 1981. I started practicing law in 1981. For the vast majority of that time, our firm has been specialists in local government law. I’ve been the city attorney for the city of Sugar Hill, the City of Duluth, City of Grace, City of Lawrenceville. We have in the past also served for Snellville and the city of Auburn. And we also represent the Gwinnett County Board of Education and we’ve represented that entity since 1983. And so we’ve seen a lot of changes over the years. And so, that’s what I’ve done for a living my entire career. I’m also active in the community. I was actually in the first class of Leadership Gwinnett, that was in 1985 and 1986. I was in my late twenties and was selected to that class of Leadership Gwinnett. I have been active in the Democratic party. I’ve been on the executive committee of the Gwinnett Democratic party for over 30 years. I’ve been on the state Democratic party committee for over 20 years. And I’ve been in a number of civic organizations, I actually was one of the founding members of the Gwinnett Tech Foundation and was also a founding member of the Central Gwinnett Cluster Foundation and serve on the board of directors of the Justice Center of Atlanta. Which is a nonprofit organization that provides mediation service and provides mediation training for people all over the United States.

Rico: [00:05:21] And that’s interesting. I mean, the democratic, I mean, me coming from New York it’s all Democrats up in the city of New York. Unless you were on Staten Island, Long Island, and then there were Republicans. So there was never a Republican to be found in the boroughs, right? And when I moved down here in ’95, being a Democrat in Gwinnett County, you are lonesome, we never crossed paths that way. I ended up becoming a Reagan Republican or Reagan Democrat, however they call it. But the Republican party for the most part was what the county ran on right? During the early, I mean, most of the years, but when I moved here in ’95, it seemed that way.

Lee: [00:06:04] Well, certainly since ’95 that has been true. Prior to that, actually when I was in college and then a young lawyer in politics, there were actually a lot of Democrats in office here in Gwinnett County. I actually was the campaign manager for Bartow Jenkins, who was the last Democrat to serve on the Gwinnett County Commission before Ben Ku and Marlene Foskey were elected last year. I was his campaign manager. I also worked on the campaign staff of Ed Jenkins, who was a Democratic Congressman who represented the County up until, I believe it was 1992. The Republicans swept most of the County offices in 1984. And so, since that time, most of the County wide offices have been held by Republicans.

Rico: [00:06:53] I think there was a Gingrich along that time maybe, right? Yeah, but politics has changed in, in the County. I mean, I’ve seen it since ’95 since I moved here. Urbanized, Gwinnett has become more urbanized, right? A lot more minorities. Very different from the way it was in the late, mid, late nineties, I think, more Democratic. Well at least what democratic leaning, maybe not democratic voters, but we’re getting there, it seems right. It’s taken a couple of decades. Are you, are you finding it easier to meet more Democrats along the way? Different
types of Democrats? You know, there’s Asians, there’s African-Americans. I mean, it’s a big potpourri of ethnicity in Gwinnett County, right?

Lee: [00:07:49] It is, and definitely, I mean I’ve seen the entire change. I actually grew up in Gwinnett County, so I was going to school in the seventies in Gwinnett County when it was basically a rural community. My grandparents lived down on Pleasant Hill road, which at that time had a lot of farms and even some dairies on it. And so, I’ve seen it change from a rural community to a suburban community now to an urban community. It’s become much more diverse. It’s one of the most diverse counties in the United States at this point. And that’s, that’s been a very good thing. And it has been good for the Democratic party. The Democratic party has grown in the last few years. I was actually elected as state representative in 2008 when President Obama got elected. I ran against the three-term incumbent here in Marksville, was able to win that seat in 2008. I then lost it in 2010 when the Republicans swept in statewide races. But then have remained active in the party. And I’ve seen actually they split my old seat up into six different districts in the Lawrenceville area. And I was happy that by this last 2018 election, four of those six seats that have parts of my old district are now held by Democrats.

Rico: [00:09:13] Wow. It has changed a lot it seems. So politics. Politics has changed a bit too, right? Since even a decade ago. I mean, we’re more concerned about transportation coming in. I’ve seen more challenges on that Marta wants to be able to come in, although it was recently defeated. COVID-19 has also opened up a lot of different other challenges as well. So what do you find with, you know, what challenges do you think a County chairman will have coming into office considering reduced revenue that’s happening because of COVID-19 and in health issues. So what challenges will an elected official County Commissioner, County Chair face when they take office?

Lee: [00:10:03] Well, they’re going to face a lot of, of issues. They’re going to face the issues that they already had, which are transportation, how to deal with transportation, how to deal with land use planning and infrastructure, and all of the issues that were already there. But they’re now going to be facing that, having to deal with probably substantially reduced revenues. One of the things that we’ve already seen is the effect on businesses. Obviously with restaurants being closed with a number of retail businesses being closed, that we’ve had a reduction in sales tax revenue. And that sales tax revenue is probably going to continue to be reduced. Sales tax revenue in Gwinnett County is mainly used for those special purpose local option sales tax to fund capital projects. So what is probably going to happen is we’re probably going to have to see how long that reduced sales tax revenue goes on. And see if there’s going to be enough money to fund the projects that were planned out for this loss in the last referendum and see if we’re not able to fund those projects, which projects are we going to put priority on and which projects are going to have to be delayed or which projects where we might have to come up with a different funding source. We also really don’t know yet how this is going to affect other revenue sources. When I was in the state legislature I went in in January of 2009, a few months after the economic collapse of 2008. And I found at that time the state was often trying to balance the budget by cutting funds that it was providing the local governments. And so we
don’t, the state hasn’t even adopted its budget for the coming fiscal year, which starts July one. So we don’t have any idea if the state is going to be cutting back the County funds. And so we’ll just have to kind of wait and see the ultimate effect this has. But obviously it’s going to change planning and we’re going to have to be very strategic in our financial planning next year. Once we see how much we are actually affected by this.

Rico: [00:12:09] I think I just heard something about the governor’s office saying to all the departments about cutting back 15% across the board. Something along those lines.

Lee: [00:12:18] That’s correct. I think they sent out a memo to ask them to cut their budgets about 14%.

Rico: [00:12:23] Across the board, no matter.

Lee: [00:12:27] When they had originally asked them to cut a 6% or 4% I believe it was earlier, there were certain places that were exempted like education and other areas. As I understand it from this last memo, there are no exemptions.

Rico: [00:12:42] So how does the County work hand in hand with education, for example, and other areas within the County? Obviously school kids are home. They’re home through the summer. They should be coming back in the Fall if things go well. School buses have to run school lunches. There’s other services that the County provides separate. I mean, obviously you’re not, County Commission doesn’t deal with the school board per se. But there’s auxiliary services that have to be provided that the County coordinates right? With school system, with the health department.

Lee: [00:13:16] They do. And of course, as I said, our firm represents the Gwinnett County Board of Education. So we see it from the education side and obviously the decisions about policy and how to operate schools are all done by a separate elected body separate than the County Commision. They’re done by the school board and the superintendent of schools. But yes, there’s coordination that has to go on between transportation. Transportation projects that provide intersection improvements and sidewalk improvements and those types of things around schools. And obviously, going on now, the school system has continued to deliver lunches despite the fact that it has children who are not in school. For your title one schools they have continued to provide lunches to those individuals. When we get to the summer and they may not have those lunches or if we face something in the fall where people may not be able to go back to school, that’s obviously an issue that we all have to deal with and all that. If you, I, I’m very close, my office is very close to the Lawrenceville co-op. They give out food on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. During the week of spring break, the line from the Lawrenceville co-op extended back over two blocks of people waiting to get in to pick up food that week. So that’s a real issue where we have to deal with our social services and our health and human resources. Divisions of the County have to step in and try and help on some of those issues.

Rico: [00:14:48] And property taxes is another issue too I’d imagine. Property tax has to be paid towards the end of the year and stuff. Do you think that there may be challenges there? Are we looking at not a second wave of, well, second wave of economic impact even, but we’re looking at the County have challenges there then? Because that would affect budget as well.

Lee: [00:15:12] It would. And we could be looking at that. I think it may be a little bit too early to tell that for sure. It’s going to, we’re going to have to see how drastic this economic downturn is from the virus. If it lasts long enough and we begin to have people having evictions, we begin to have people moving out of buildings and leaving the buildings vacant. All of those things obviously can have a downturn on property values and can affect property taxes. I don’t know if we’ll see it so much this year in the property taxes, and because those property values were really set at the beginning of the year in January. Unless we see people who are not able to pay their bills, we may see Gwinnett County actually has a very high collection rate on their property tax bill. So it’ll be interesting to see if that goes down this fall when, when those property taxes actually come to you.

Rico: [00:16:07] Come, when, Governor Kemp back in, I think it was April 21st, somewhere around there, mid April, decided to start opening up the state slowly. I don’t know if it was slowly, but it was announced that it’s going to open up. The rules, the executive order, he placed, said sure, salons. He has salons, nail places that can open up, but there were no obviously anyone that looked at that and looked at the CDC guidance would be like, you can’t open these things up. I know that you were sort of opposed to the opening up of the state at that point. How do you, how do you see it coming along now? I mean, are you still, how do you feel about the opening and the continued opening right now? Summer camps, for example, not overnight camps, but summer camps are going to be allowed. The movement to 10 persons in a group and stuff like that. How do you see that affecting Gwinnett County? Are you for that? Are you, you know, what’s your take on that?

Lee: [00:17:09] I’m still concerned about it. I had two problems when Governors Kemp did that and put out a short statement about that when he did it. The first was that I thought it was a little bit too early for some of the reasons you just cited. There were some obvious businesses in there that you really couldn’t keep social distancing that it was difficult for them to abide by the guidelines. Secondly, the issue of that, every time the governor has put out an order, he’s preempted any kind of local action. So, in other words, if the city of Atlanta wants to do something differently, or Gwinnett County, a County of almost a million people, thinks it needs to have different rules than a County in South Georgia that has 20,000 people, he preempted any ability to do that. And I found that disturbing. You know, I hope we’re not going to see an uptick and the second wave of the virus. I think it’s a little bit too early to see to know that. I have been impressed by people, I think showing common sense. And a lot of people just saying, you know, I’m not comfortable going in and sitting in a restaurant right now. I’m still going to pick up, or I’m not comfortable going to a particular area. And the people who have opened up at least, you know, hair salons, one person salons where they say, okay, I’ll take one person at a time. I’ll use disposable capes, I’ll disinfect everything after this person leaves. Everybody wears masks and
gloves while they’re in here, you know, so I have been pleasantly surprised by some of the common sense I’ve seen of people trying to make sure that they apply common sense to the openings that they have done.

Rico: [00:19:04] That’s interesting. I’ve been out there a little bit. I’ve been doing a lot of Instacart ordering, so costco deliveries, Publix delivery. Well, not Ingles. But when I do go out there though, it’s interesting the mix of different things, right? I see a lot of people with masks, and then at some places you see no one wear masks. So I just, you know, and I think my fear is that the longer we do this, the more lax people become. Because, you know, that’s just the nature of, I think people, right?

Lee: [00:19:38] So I would agree with your comments. I’ve seen the same thing. We’ve, when we have people come into our office, we still have our doors locked. We let people come in as they need to for a specific, to sign some papers or something. We wear a mask. We’ve asked people to wear a mask. Some people do, some people don’t. So yeah.

Rico: [00:19:56] You know, and moving forward, obviously I think business has to start moving at some point. Intelligently yes. Um, because we, people need to make money. They have to pay their bills. I think everyone starts feeling the hurt at some point. Individuals as well as business owners. And also opportunities have been found because some people figure they don’t need that 10,000 square foot office. They could use 2,000 square feet and everyone could be, you know, out there doing zooming you know and stuff. That could have a bad effect on commercial real estate in the country. You know, there’s that. There’s also, you know, transportation. I’m sure Marta is going to come back up again. I don’t know when the cycle is, maybe even in November if there’s something on the ballot, I guess. How do you feel about Marta coming back and, or transportation along those lines? Is that something you would be welcoming and how would that be affected? You know, how can we do that? Maybe with even limited budgets?

Lee: [00:21:07] Yes, it’s something I would actually welcome. I’ve actually lived here long enough that I’ve voted for the Marta referendum in 1990 when it came along. It was defeated in 1990. I voted for Marta referendum last year when the referendum came out, I think it needs to be put back on the ballot. I think it was unfortunate that it was put on the March ballot rather than the November ballot, that the last vote, I think that was done for purely partisan politics. And that was a sad thing. It is something that we need. We need public transportation, and we need to do it because what that referendum actually provides is a 1 cent sales tax that’s going to last for about 30 years. That will provide a guaranteed funding mechanism for transportation and we might differ a little bit on the plans and which plan is a better plan and what we should have. I hope that we don’t try and wait for the perfect plan before we get that funding source in place because we need to put the funding source in place and get some type of public transportation going in this County. I’ve, when I was a state representative, I also supported the T Splice bill. It wasn’t a perfect bill, I didn’t like it, but I voted for it and I’d hoped the County would vote for it in 2010 unfortunately we didn’t. And now we saw it was another 10 years
before we got anything else on the referendum. So the longer we put these things off, the less money we have going towards transportation over the years.

Rico: [00:22:45] I agree with you to a degree. I mean the T Splice is a little different probably because you can always adjust that budget where that money goes to some degree, whereas the larger transportation plan might be different, right? Heavy rail versus light rail? You know, where are you going to put the transportation hubs? I mean, some of those things can be decided later, obviously, but there’s always a plan that people look at initially. I think that was why that plan failed. As well as being politically put into the wrong month to be voted on. So I agree with you there. That just killed it. They just, that was just dumb. But it was made on purpose to be defeated I think at that point. But anyway, you know, COVID-19 is actually qualifying everything we talked about now. Transportation, are we going to be doing that type of thing? How do we continue development, you know, and providing affordable housing? I’m assuming that, you know, as any Democrat, I don’t know if you’re progressive or more conservative, but how do you feel about affordable housing when it comes to further development in the County? Do you feel that it has to be regulated in there, incentivized? How do you feel about that as far as people being able to afford to live in a place near where they’re working?

Lee: [00:24:09] Well, I think it is a demand that we have to respond to in the County, and it should be a high priority of providing affordable housing and work force housing. I’ve actually been involved in a project in downtown Lawrenceville as the city attorney, that I think provided a good example of how we might do some things. The city of Lawrenceville took about 30 acres near its center and is actually redeveloping that for a number of mixed uses. It’s apartments, condominiums, single family, retail, restaurants. As part of that the development actually wiped out some old public housing that was built in the fifties and sixties. And what Lawrenceville did was part of that plan is take part of the money that came from the development of that. And we actually built a, I think they lost 30 some odd units in public housing. They actually built 40 some odd units of new housing, and relocated those people as part of the project. They also have several projects that their housing authority has done where they’ve been mixing projects where there’s affordable, supplemented housing being mixed in with regular market rate housing. And so there are a lot of creative ways to do this. And I think we’ve got to continue to look at those creative ways, engage the private sector in doing that, and work along with our public sector and our housing authorities and our other authorities that we have that can provide the type of housing we need.

Rico: [00:25:51] Okay. What about immigration and the policies that are right now in place, like programs like 287G and you know, the impact that has on the immigrant population. How do you, where do you stand on that issue?

Lee: [00:26:07] I think that’s a bad program. I actually put out a, you can go to my website and my Facebook page. I think I actually put something up on Facebook in like August of last year when they were having some of the hearings and discussion about that. That is a program that’s
bad for a couple of reasons. Number one, it’s bad economically. We spend about $3 million a year on that program and we don’t get any substantial return from it, I think. And the second is, it’s bad from a psychological standpoint. It sends a bad message to our immigrant community in saying that I think it leads to profiling. I think it leads to a negative feeling of the immigrant community that they’re being discriminated against, and I think they are being very often as a result of that program. And, so I think we need to get rid of the program. I think we also need to make sure that the programs that were put into effect in Gwinnett County are welcoming and inclusive programs. And I can actually tell you a story. When I was a state representative back in 2009 and 2010, I actually got complaints about some of law enforcement running roadblocks near churches that were having Spanish mass or a Haitian community. And I think that was a direct result of 287G types of programs back at as long ago as 10, 12 years ago.

Rico: [00:27:37] Wow. I know a lot of the, I’ve interviewed, I think two sheriffs, candidates that are running for Gwinnett County. They both obviously want to take, you know, stop the 287 G program.

Lee: [00:27:49] And I would say the sheriff has the most control over that program. And so I think electing one of these good Democratic candidates we’ve got for sheriff would go a long way towards stopping that program.

Rico: [00:28:00] Do you have a particular candidate that you favor?

Lee: [00:28:03] I actually do. You can check their financial records and see which one I gave money to.

Rico: [00:28:12] Alright, sounds good. Talking about financial records, we’re heading towards the end of our time together. So I want to take it on ethics and transparency, which is on your website. And, you know, Gwinnett County government for a long time, I’m sure. I was on the planning commission for three years, I think, under Burton, when he was commissioner representing this area. And, although I never was personally involved or seen any ethics issues, you know, you always heard things. You know, that might’ve fell along the border a little bit of like, you know, someone rezoning a place, a hundred acres then flipping the property to a developer, all of a sudden that’s going to develop that. So a lot of farmers became millionaires over in the early nineties and late eighties, even going into the late nineties, a little bit because of things like that. And there were, I’m sure there was even one County commissioner, I won’t name them, that was connected directly to developers and ended up having to give up a seat and was prosecuted at some point. But, you know, things like that happen in politics. I don’t think anyone’s led to think things like that doesn’t, you know, doesn’t happen on a regular basis. What would you change? So then there would be more transparency and more honesty maybe brought to the process. What could we do there?

Lee: [00:29:42] Sure. Well, the first thing is you need to enforce the rules that exist. There are ethics rules that exist for both politicians to disclose their personal financial disclosure
statements and who’s giving them campaign contributions. All those things. People need to comply with those. They need to file them on a timely basis and they need to file them and be open about that. Second thing is we actually need to, I believe, revise our internal processes in the County about how zonings are handled. One of the things that the ethics statutes say is that if somebody is an applicant in a zoning, they’re supposed to disclose whether they’ve given campaign contributions to someone within a certain time period. Well, if you come up and you’re going to buy a piece of property and rezone it and you put it in an LLC, that’s never existed before. Never owns anything other than that piece of property, obviously you’ve never given any campaign contributions, but it can be owned by five people who have given lots of campaign contributions. That’s circumventing those rules and regulations. And we just need to, and that would be very simple to just make you disclose certain things when you file applications, make sure you know who the applicant is, make sure you know who the owner is. Make sure you have the types of disclosure that needs to be done, and so I would certainly push for those types of rules changes in our zoning process.

Rico: [00:31:08] Is that something that has to be voted on or is that something the County Commission Chair can across the board like an executive order? Can you actually do that yourself without any?

Lee: [00:31:19] I could not do that by myself. I would have to have a majority of the County commission agreed to change the regulations about that.

Rico: [00:31:25] Okay. Well, there’s a couple of Progressive’s I think on the County commission now, right? It should be easier maybe.

Lee: [00:31:31] Well, we certainly have two Democrats on there already. So the, you know, the hope is we’ll have five Democrats next year when we come into session in September, I mean in January.

Rico: [00:31:43] Right, right. Alright. I don’t have a problem with that necessarily, but although some of my listeners will be a bit problematic with that. COVID-19 has changed the way politics works. So let’s talk a little bit just quickly about that, how you’ve been campaigning, because it’s like you’re not a, I mean, even still now, I don’t think you could go out in really more than 10 people, I guess. So how are you campaigning? How is that process working for you now?

Lee: [00:32:14] Well, it’s been a very interesting process. We came up with the campaign plan really before the first of the year last fall, and about eight weeks ago, we just said, well, this isn’t going to work out. So, because it involved a lot of door to door, knocking on doors, having meets and greets in neighborhoods, doing fundraising at gatherings. And in fact, I think the last event I had like that was over in Peachtree Corners. I had an event back in February, and I think that was about the time the virus hit a week or two after that.

Rico: [00:32:47] Right. That was when it was growing, I think.

Lee: [00:32:49] That’s right. We started shutting things down. So, it’s really shifted the campaign. We’ve had to do a lot of telephone work, had to do, we’re sending out texts, doing a lot of social media. Putting things on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and we’re sending mailer pieces out.

Rico: [00:33:11] And you’re doing a lot of virtual, I’ve noticed that, doing a lot of virtual candidate forums organized, which is pretty good. Organized, like one of them was organized by the Asian American advocacy fund, another one by the Gwinnett African-American caucus.

Lee: [00:33:25] Correct.

Rico: [00:33:26] Really niche. I mean, social media allows you to actually be able to niche down some of these things and reach certain segments of the population better, I think.

Lee: [00:33:34] And that has been fascinating and is actually, when you say that, I think the response to some of this has been actually better than you’ll get at a public meeting. I know we were at one virtual forum that one of the CID was doing, I think they had 160 some odd people watching at one point. We had one with the chamber of commerce this morning that lasted for about an hour and a half. The commission chair candidates, and they told us they had had between 100-200 people register for that and they expected even more to come on that. I actually participated in NAACP meeting earlier this week about virtual zoom call. I participated in the Asian American Advocacy fund forum that you were talking about last week. So I’ve participated in four or five of those types of forums and they’ve been very well received and it’s been enjoyable for the candidates to get a chance to actually talk with each other and share our views with the public.

Rico: [00:34:38] You know, I think the opportunity, maybe you can’t do the door to door handshake, which is always the best thing for a politician, to be able to do door to door because that’s really pulling out that vote and meeting people in person. But you’re right. I mean you don’t, you probably wouldn’t have gotten that as many in person visits to a forum then you can online because people would be like, I can do that. I’m here, I’m home. It’s just the zone right in there, you know? So maybe it could be good.

Lee: [00:35:06] That’s right. And then you have the same as you do with these, they get posted somewhere and people see them after the fact as well.

Rico: [00:35:13] So it’s been an interesting process with hope. And I mailed in my ballot also. So did that I think it was last week I mailed the ballot in. And hopefully what 7 million, 6, 7 million people got in the state of Georgia, got the application for the absentee ballot. I think a million of them responded, which was unusual because normally it would be a hundred thousand or something like that, be a really small number. So, it’ll be interesting to see how this is going to
all pan out and how they’re going to be able to count those ballots. So I don’t suspect we’ll know the winner for a few days.

Lee: [00:35:49] Well that’ll be interesting. In fact, there’s a lawsuit pending I saw just now that was kind of playing off the Wisconsin lawsuit as to whether ballots are going to have to be counted. Do they have to be received by seven o’clock on election day or did they just have to be postmarked?

Rico: [00:36:05] Yes, and that was the question I had now, besides the fact that there was no pre stamped or pre-metered return, which really, I mean, that’s, I think the state should have done that.

Lee: [00:36:16] I agree with you. In fact, Stacey Abrams put out a statement about that, and I put out a statement agreeing with her.

Rico: [00:36:21] It’s ridiculous that they did not do that. They printed all those valid applications and not do that? That makes no sense to me. But yes, I had the same question of, is it post marked that day or it has to be there before that day? And what if the post office gets it wrong? I mean, I’ve published Peachtree Corners magazine and I can’t tell you how sometimes every once in a while we’ll get someone say, I didn’t get that, or I got it three weeks later and it’s like, you know, I pay the rate I pay. It gets, it’s supposed to be delivered legally and officially within three days and not like a week later. So that’s what I’m wondering right now.

Lee: [00:37:04] And I think the secretary of state contends that the rule is it has to be in the election office by seven o’clock on election day. The Supreme court, when they approved the Wisconsin decision that they approved earlier this year. Actually allowed, a federal judge has said, as long as it was postmarked by the day and it came, then you still had to count it. So that’s probably going to be an issue that’s going to be argued back and forth between now and election day. This is going to be an interesting election cause I do think you’re going to have a lot of people voting by mail, which extends it out for the candidates as well. Normally you have a three week process where people are early voting. We have about a six week process cause as you say, you’ve already voted and yet we’re still more than, you know, just a month or so out from the election.

Rico: [00:37:56] Which becomes a problem though because if I voted and let’s say you know, let’s say the candidate I’d like, I’d like someone else now it’s too late. You can’t do anything about it. So you really do have to be careful the candidate, as long as you campaign, as long as you can. We’ve come at the end of our time. So normally what I ask a politician to do is give our audience, ask for the vote, tell them, give me about a minute or so, and I’ll put you on screen by yourself. Why they should be voting for you Lee.

Lee: [00:38:32] Alright, well thank you very much. So first of all, thank you for letting me do this and for having me here today. It’s been very nice, I appreciate it. I would ask for your vote for
County commission chair because I believe this is extremely important election when we come in as a County commission in January of next year, you’re going to have five County commissioners and the longest serving County commissioners are going to have two years tenure. I believe it’s very important, that the person who’s in the chairman’s position as the leader of that commission has a good and solid understanding of local government in the issues that have to be addressed by local government. I believe I’m that candidate. I have almost 40 years of experience as a local government attorney representing some of the largest cities in Gwinnett County and representing the Gwinnett County school board, the largest employer in Gwinnett County. I have a great knowledge of County and city government. I have a knowledge of zoning, which is about 50% of what County commissioners do. And I’ve done zoning throughout my career for over 30 years. I believe I have the talents and the ability to do the job and to do it well. And I also have a passion for Gwinnett County. I grew up here. I want to see our County prosper. I want to see our County become inclusive. I want to see our County become leaders in regional transportation and doing the types of thing this County needs to do. And I would appreciate your vote and your support.

Rico: [00:40:10] Thank you, Lee. Hang in there with me while we sign off. I want to thank everyone for watching Peachtree Corners Life. More podcasts to come. Elections are not over. So I might have another candidate or two from a variety of places you never know. So I appreciate you guys hanging in there with us, listening to the issues. Make your choices. If you haven’t voted yet, you need to do this. 2020 is truly an important year on so many different levels. And if you’ve been affected by COVID-19, I pray and hope that your family and you and the people you are with, that you know that things turn out well and stay strong. We’ll be with you. We’re all in this together. Thank you.

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