Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners, District 3
NOTE: Not all candidates submitted answers to the Chamber questionnaire
Ben Archer (Republican)
The most pressing challenges/opportunities facing Gwinnett are maintaining and improving the infrastructure, business growth, and employment. In order to keep Gwinnett County a great place to live, my vision is to continue to move Gwinnett forward in terms of promoting top local, national, and international businesses and making sure there is sensible growth, development, and re-developments.
My priorities would be to stress the importance of fostering and maintaining relationships and partnerships with skilled and knowledgeable businesses, organizations, and agencies that promote and support sensible growth and county management.
See answer above. Also, I believe that it is essential that we maintain collaborative relationships with organizations like the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, Partnership Gwinnett, and other such local/national business development organizations.
First and foremost, we will need to maintain protective services for Gwinnett County residents’ safety and security. I would want to review all capital projects and prioritize. Those things that can be delayed will need to be addressed accordingly. About ten years ago, I participated in Engage Gwinnett and we discussed ideas such as partnering with companies for advertisement funding that would financially support maintenance our parks and recreation facilities.
I was appointed to the committee that developed the 2040 Gwinnett County Unified Plan. I support this well thought out 20 year growth plan that was created by business and government leaders, as well as citizens of the community.
I would propose additional intersection improvements like creating right/left turn lanes. Also, there are certain areas of District 3 that need water and sewer infrastructure improvements to attract quality and sustainable business development.
I know that a lot of time and effort was put into creating the development of the transportation plan. However, after reviewing it, I feel that District 3 would be part of the funding source, but would not receive the benefit of the transportation plan. I feel like Gwinnett County should not partner with MARTA because of their past misappropriation of funds. Gwinnett needs to develop sensible transit planning with other business/resources.
Gwinnett County Public School System is rated the #1 school system in Georgia. We should continue to support the school system that encourages college and career development and has specialty schools such as Maxwell High School of Technology, Paul Duke STEM High School, GSMST, and McClure Health Science High School. We can also support Georgia Gwinnett College, Gwinnett Technical College, and other satellite college and university locations in Gwinnett that will help educate and build workforce talent in Gwinnett County.
It is important to continue working with the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, Partnership Gwinnett, and other organizations that bring in big and small businesses to support sensible growth and financial resources to support the county tax digest. Offering tax incentives would help lure businesses to Gwinnett County.
I am currently on the Planning Commission Board, and we make recommendations to the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners concerning zoning and special use permit requests. We listen to County-wide requests. On this board, I am open-minded and listen to all information in order to make decisions that would be beneficial to all involved.
Matt DeReimer (Republican)
District 3 has different areas with different needs, from the rural east portions of the county to the more dense southwest portions, so there won’t likely be any “one-size fits all”. One pressing challenge is handling the Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority (ATL) proposals that will need immediate attention. My solutions involve firstly putting MARTA to bed. It did not make sense for Gwinnett pre-pandemic, and has no case post-pandemic. The involved assumed costs are astronomical, Gwinnett wouldn’t be the project operator, and it’s an obsolete technology with cheaper more versatile options available. I would then entertain those projects that the transit review committee worked so hard on late last year into early this year. They run a wide range from bike and pedestrian improvements to new Bus Rapid Transit routes, each of which will have to prove their need and available funding, especially in post-pandemic Gwinnett. Secondly, balance of growth in District 3 is important. We don’t want to approach all development as good development. Impact and need studies must be considered, along with the surrounding residents and infrastructure capabilities.
When we’re discussing priorities, I’m assuming we’re talking about the key decision packages from the 2020 budget. Of those published priorities, a safe and healthy community and community engagement would be where I’d double-down. A safe community IS a healthy community, so they certainly go hand-in-hand. This means continuing to bolster our public safety departments. Not only in regards to the number of available positions, but striving to fill those positions with good candidates who want to serve Gwinnett. Then once filled, retention of those employees for the long-term by providing competitive pay and benefits. As for community engagement, that involves my desire to be reachable and approachable to residents, businesses, and employees. Also, continuing to fund and promote great programs like our citizens academies that allow residents to better understand their government and it’s services, which encourages transparency. My new priorities would be to embrace technology and its cost-savings. Relatively speaking, the county was late to joining social media. But since doing so, I feel the dissemination of information has been extremely efficient, accurate, and widely received, as shown through the fluid and daily COVID-19 reports that were being sent out. Residents were able to get quick updates to local matters. This same level of communication can continue regarding matters before the Board. Lastly, I’ll seek to streamline services wherever possible by recognizing and reorganizing any duplication of service or redundcy.
This has to be approached through responsible decision making. Just as prior county leaders have maintained our excellent triple AAA bond rating (for about 20 years), the new guard of leaders must do the same. Just like a high credit rating for an individual, which affords them opportunities, Gwinnett’s bond ratings let businesses know we know what we’re doing and their investment in us will be rewarded. Additionally, the board has to balance the expertise and experience from our partners such as the Community Improvement Districts, Chamber, Atlanta Regional Commission, and Partnership Gwinnett, while weighing any of that advice with what our residents have to say. Lastly, public safety. Gwinnett’s public safety departments are excellent, there isn’t a better word for it. Without strong public safety departments, businesses won’t want to establish in Gwinnett. They want to know that crime rates will remain low through deterrence and enforcement, crimes that do occur will be pursued through diligence and thorough investigation, and that response times and officer visibility do not suffer. This can only happen through attracting and retaining the best public safety personnel, along with providing support through actions and budgeting. I’ll be able to relate to these groups due to my current small business experience and prior law enforcement tenure.
We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here. If there’s a positive to be found from the last recession, Gwinnett’s resilience has been tested before and passed. The leadership during that time, including some of the current BOC members, navigated those waters already. We can look back at the economic downturn in the late 2000s and early 2010s and use what worked with budgets during that time and what didn’t. Then, couple what worked with the zero-based budgeting that needs to be implemented at this point. These steps include reevaluating projects and putting off wants for the time being in favor of needs, just as any fiscally responsible household would do. I would ask residents, businesses, and employees alike to treat the County’s budget the same way, understanding the belt may have to be tightened in some areas. But that being said, in regard to priorities, some departments can’t afford to see a drop in resources, like public safety, water, and even portions of DOT. These services have to continue. Again using the budget-savvy household metaphor, the locks on the doors, electricity, water, HVAC, these things have to continue to function, but I wouldn’t be going out and buying a new car right now. Now keep in mind, the county did receive over $188 million in stimulus funds from various federal agencies. It is expected to cover public facility enhancements relating to COVID-19, funding to help small businesses, and assist with housing and food needs. Allocating that money properly will be crucial, while understanding what ties those funds bring.
It’s no secret that we’ll likely be over 1 million people after the 2020 Census wraps up, which reminds me to encourage all residents to complete their census questionnaires for Gwinnett to get the proper representation and funding we need. By 2050 or sooner, we may see 1.5 million, but this can’t be done without balancing multiple factors like: housing, development, green space, and extremely important, infrastructure. We have to be very forward-thinking in terms of the roads and water projects needed to support this inevitable growth. Growth that has to be methodical and intentional, not left unchecked to where it can’t be properly supported and maintained. This same infrastructure, that is aging in certain parts of the county considering our growth in the 1990s, must be taken into account in every developmental decision, whether residential or commercial. I would also want to see less emphasis on cramming as many homes into an acre with new developments if the surrounding infrastructure can’t support it. That means adhering to needs and impact reports and using the long-term plans as a map. Also, balancing the growth of apartments and townhomes. My first home was an apartment, then small home after getting married, so I get each option is great for meeting different stages of life. But unbalanced growth will create issues.
Gwinnett DOT and DWR are the two main departments that come to mind when I think about infrastructure. So I am thankful they are so well managed and include a lot of support and maintenance planning. In relation to transportation, we need to resurface our roads when the time comes. Proper road maintenance allows us to save money in the long run by simply re-topping a roadway versus allowing it to go into such disrepair that it has to be pulled up and completely re-laid. Regarding water, the county should continue to update and maintain our two water filter and distribution plants (Lanier and Shoal Creek) and our three treatment plants (F Wayne Hill, Yellow River, and Crooked Creek). Then continuing down this path, population growth may mean we need to entertain the possibility of adding another water treatment plant along with upgrading the line capacities. Our water and sewer lines are aging, so knowing and preparing for these upgrades and/or replacements is necessary. In terms of transportation, as seen in the recent Harbins Rd/316 intersection, we need to update where safety is a concern, but not allow growth in District 3 to out-pace the road network. Lastly, SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) must be renewed when it’s due. So many projects have been done responsibly regarding cost because of SPLOST and the ability to pay cash to finish. That extra penny sales from residents and visitors alike goes a long way.
We all know that freight drives this country. As seen in recent weeks, we felt the impact when certain goods were and still are scarce. We want those circumstances to be rare, not the norm. As per the Destination 2040 plan, freight is projected to increase 76% by 2040. The busiest routes have been identified as I-85, I-985, 316, and 78. These key freight corridors have to remain the focus for investment to allow shipments to continue without severe delay. All while remembering that our public roads and interstates are to be shared with mostly non-commercial vehicles. So what are these investments that have to be considered? I believe continuing to keep roadways in good condition and passable is priority. Then we need to remember safety in dealing with this type of traffic. Safety can be from how roads are designed and built, to the public safety personnel who respond for needs of service. It doesn’t take much to guess the top public feedback concern, congestion. And within that concern, congestion on 124 was the main complaint. I’m thankful we will soon see Hwy. 124 between Sugarloaf and Hwy. 78 widened, a good portion being in District 3. We can’t talk about congestion and keeping freight corridors open with minimal delay without bringing up MARTA. I voted against MARTA’s expansion in 2019, and I do not support it expanding here now. MARTA will not aid in congestion relief, this has been widely understood and recognized by groups who are for and against it’s inclusion in Gwinnett. Instead, let’s use the past weeks to promote the innovative ways employers have implemented teleworking. Also, there are options and technologies on the horizon that will be less expensive and provide better service.
The first step in any good workforce development strategy is not looking at Gwinnett’s employees as a big faceless government entity. Often times people refer to Gwinnett and other jurisdictions as “the government.” Yes, I get it, it is government. But who is behind this broad “workforce” term, it’s people. Just like when I was an officer for over a decade, to do that job for any real length of time and keep a servant’s heart, you have to see each caller, victim, violator, or offender as a person. We’re talking about people here. The public safety departments are made up of people, from police to paramedics, corrections to dispatchers, these are our neighbors, friends, and family. The same goes for any other department: DWR, DOT, Community Services, Planning & Development, Law, Support Services, and I know I am missing a few likely. I believe in adding value to others. It’s no secret that employees who feel appreciated and supported are more productive. Gwinnett’s employees aren’t numbers, but skilled professionals who chose to bring their expertise to Gwinnett. I will remain approachable to employees, just like our residents and businesses. Because candidates come and go after a term or two, but many of these professionals have dedicated a decade or more to serving Gwinnett. They are the backbone, the experts in their field, and they deserve our support. If chosen to serve, I will start each day with this mindset, hoping to attract and retain the best candidates to serve our county alongside us.
In order to attract future job growth and remain competitive, Gwinnett will have to remain clean, safe, and vibrant, so this question really involves a catch all of topics we’ve been covering. Cleanliness can be seen or a state of mind. We need residents to take pride in their home county and strive to refrain from littering or allowing their properties to go into extreme disrepair. In the end, we’re talking about everyone’s investment in living and/or working here. Safety is pivotal to job growth. If there isn’t a sense of safety, you’ll have less residents living here who contribute to their community and support the local economy, and less businesses who will want to establish here due to fear of being a victim. This is why our public safety departments have to remain funded and supported, no matter the financial season. And vibrancy…to me this means a healthy local economy. Last summer, the Chamber was quoted in a local news outlet article “…there are more than 39,000 businesses, and 88 percent have less than 100 employees.” I’m in this group. That tells me that small businesses are key to Gwinnett’s job growth, so we need to have as few hurdles as possible for them to get registered and open for business, along with incentives relative to their size. Let’s not make the government/paperwork/red tape side of opening a business a daunting or intimidating process. Finally, education is a must, so working with our local higher learning institutions like GA Gwinnett College and Gwinnett Tech, along with the free opportunities through the Dept of Community Services, will get skilled professionals back to work.
First and foremost, elected officials are public servants and are in positions to represent our constituents. Their insights and concerns have to be heard and taken into account when decisions are being made. Then the commission member has to relay those comments to the board regarding the particular matter, while applying their personal judgment and filter. I understand there will be cases where some board members disagree, but as for myself, I will apply the Golden Rule. Just like with residents, businesses, and employees, I will always be willing to hear the opinions and ideas of fellow board members. I recognize our goal remains the same…to serve Gwinnett. Being a prior police officer with a decade of experience, If there’s a skill any cop has to master, it’s conflict resolution. I’ve seen my share of conflicts and made a career out of helping and resolving those conflicts in a calm, collected and unbiased manner. I’ve learned how to listen to people, and as I already mentioned, it starts with the Golden Rule (treating others BETTER than I want to be treated).
Jasper Watkins (Democrat)
When elected as your Gwinnett county commissioner district 3, my top priorities would be to focus on two critical areas. First, I would Coordinate with the Department of Water Resources (DWR) on Placement of Water and Sewer in Conjunction with the 2050 Water and Sewer Master Plan and evaluate future wastewater treatment capacity needs and location(s) for new and/or expanded water reclamation facilities. Additionally, I would merge this water conservation initiative with economic growth. I will manage growth through investment in job creation and an affordable housing inventory for an economy that is sustainable along with sound fiscal accountability – complete with amenities to strengthen property values, grow wages and shrink inequalities; thereby, increasing the economic prosperity for all. Investing in housing that is affordable, job creation, and workforce development provides the additional tax revenue needed for financial sustainment and the perceived unfunded mandates to placed on the County as a result of the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Secondly, I will address our transportation infrastructure. This is a public safety, economic, and quality of life issue. Clogged and unsafe roadways are already impacting our ability to sustain and attract fortune 500 companies and real estate industries. I would be in favor of a further review of any new large-scale development to ensure the Policies in the Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CPT) were or still can be realized. I would like to ensure that we have incorporated CPT short and mid-range priorities with long-range projections and fully explain to the affected community our intentions.
Based on meeting from 2015 to now, I would double down on the adoption and promotion of land use policies that support the recommendations and policies in the current Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP) and synchronize those with proactive investments in designated mixed-use centers (e.g., upgrade roads and sewers, parking structures, civic buildings, landscaping, etc.) Secondly, I would review and modify as necessary septic to sewer policies and ordinances. Presently, Gwinnett County has about 64 mgd of wastewater treatment capacity and 225 mgd of water production capacity. Of this 64 mgd, 27 mgd is permitted to be discharged to the Ocmulgee Basin. It is projected that Gwinnett will need an additional 40 mgd (million gallons per day) of wastewater capacity to take us to 2050. We must start today to address this issue. One of my new priorities would be to the support of expanded housing opportunities for Seniors and explore benchmarked inclusionary housing policy, design models.
Improving home values, increasing construction activity, and a strong labor market are helping contribute to both population growth and economic expansion here. Look, Gwinnett County has a healthy tax digest, which has grown nearly 20 percent from 2016 to 2019, and has increased approximately $9.4 billion since 2013. To protect our gains, I would consider the following – making complementary, proactive investments in redevelopment areas designated for higher densities… Consider amending mixed-use zoning district regulations to encourage the incorporation of more office use….Revise zoning district text and/or create new districts to permit higher densities and design standards, Consider the strategic implementation of improvements to support R&D growth by Fostering “enterprise” relationship with Georgia Gwinnett College, Gwinnett Technical College, and Gwinnett Medical Center to encourage the transition of promising research ideas into successful businesses and offer internships both nationally and internationally for scholars to take advantage of what innovations we have to offer. See, Gwinnett has a reputation of being a global competitor, and because of our diversity, we are considered an economic engine (juggernaut) in the region. And with our continued partnership with the Chamber and Partnership Gwinnett (public /private partnership), we will remain competitive in the region and nationally.
We can all agree that the current pandemic has brought forth challenges in our communities. However, having participated in several similar events, H5N1, SARS, H1N1, I am here to tell you that we can overcome the perceived hurdles to come. One of the first indicators of trouble is when a community’s budget is not solvent. Look, Gwinnett County has several positive factors impacting our current budget environment in our favor, such as a strong economy and healthy tax digest, which has grown nearly 20 percent from 2016 to 2019, adequate reserves, a well-funded pension, and OPEB plans, and a very strong Triple-AAA credit rating. Additionally, our current budget keeps sufficient reserve funds and uses pay-as-you-go financing for infrastructure projects. That being said, with advice and extensive budget analysis, I would explore working within the enterprise fund accounts, which is primarily funded from user fees and charges. I would ask all gwinnettians to roll up their sleeves and pay a little more for fishing, hunting, etc., licensing to benefit portions of our community affected by COVID-19 that was not covered by the federal budget. Further, with this special financing commission group, I would explore the possibility of reallocating portions of special revenue fund and tax-related funds within departments where applicable (sparing health and safety priorities). My bottom line would be to address the perceived “unfunded mandates” as a result of COVID-19 and ensure our reserves and our internal service funds remain solvent.
Put simply; investors are attracted to an area if there are opportunities to make money. They will assess the attractiveness of opportunities by estimating their likely return or profit and will be drawn to those cities which offer them the best combination of scale, risk, and return. So I would expand on our current growth plans that display our strong economic fundamental characteristics, our vibrant towne centered concepts of growth, and the practicalities of investment that continue to show our cities as having strong economies with growth potential and general road connectivity requirements for new development. That being said I would seek to implement regulatory parameters that explore affordable housing initiatives to promote quality living and digital connections, discover innovative, conscientious water conservation programs that address our future load allocation and discharge locations aligned with the 2050 Water and Sewer Master Plan plan, and finally maintain our triple AAA bond rating with emphasis on the Counties pay-as-you-go funding and low levels of tax-supported debt. Over a few decades, Gwinnett County evolved from a predominately rural and agrarian community to an astonishingly diverse community approaching 1 million people. Looking to the future, Gwinnett continues to grow and is expected to be – at some point – the most populous County in the state of Georgia, with credible estimates suggesting that the population could potentially be over 1.5 million people by the year 2040.
I would continue the Harbins Road @ SR 316, park and ride construction, the Infinite Energy Center expansion which is all part of the current unified plans maintain mobility and accessibility goals and look to evaluate redevelopment opportunities along routes such as SR 124, US 78, 316 (east of Dacula) and Ronald Reagan Parkway due to a limited arterial system. I will continue to support the development and preparation of sites and relevant infrastructure supporting development along GA 316 that strengthens the connection between the Athens and Atlanta regions, and supports the growth of target sectors such as life sciences. As the corridor continues to develop and its infrastructure is upgraded, potential will exist to regularly evaluate the viability and market potential of any new endeavors to catalyze life sciences growth and development along 316. As a medical professional, I see the potential to create a physical vision in partnership with local governments and anchor institutions for an educational and medical district in and around Lawrenceville and Snellville Grayson that seeks to leverage these anchor institutions, and the area’s central location between the state’s pre-eminent research universities – for life sciences related economic development.
The current transit plan represents a countywide vision for transit with broad-based support for an identified dedicated funding source and implementation strategy, where transit rises to become a model of choice for both work and leisure trips. It is broken down into four areas….short-range, mid-range, long-range phase I-II. I will continue to leverage public outreach to determine what current ongoing elements should continue to be prioritized in the development plan. I foresee taking the three overarching goals of sustainability, stewardship, and service quality and providing a feedback platform for the community to address continually. Finally, I feel that the current mid-range plans of service enhancements that expand transit accessibility and desirability with efficient service and infrastructure improvements should begin now. Further, I would merge Phase’s I-II and include high-capacity transit services sooner rather than later and let it be associated with economic growth rather than transportation following that growth.
I have managed over 2,100 employees, and workforce development starts with an assessment of the current level of knowledge, training employees using customized solutions, and then track your results. This overall process should measure three vital areas: completion, performance, and perception. Completion – assesses the ease and usefulness of the program by tracking how many employees actually finished each step and how long it took them to do so. Performance – assesses how well employees learned the material by measuring improvements in their skills before and after training. Look at changes in efficiency, production speed, customer satisfaction, or any of the other metrics you used in your original assessment of employees. Perception – assesses how employees feel about the training. This may sound like a non-essential metric, but employees are more likely to embrace training that they think is useful, accessible, and relevant. Then you should calibrate and repeat constantly, reassess and reevaluating to meet the changing needs of your workforce. Finally, you should perform periodic assessments (at least yearly) and modify training plans accordingly.
I will cultivate what’s already here. It all starts with looking at what already exists in your community. Find what is there and refine it through Economic Gardening. This approach focuses on growing sustainable jobs in existing small businesses, as opposed to subsidizing big businesses. Economic Gardening is perfect for small businesses (SMBs) who are in Stage 2 of their development. They are no longer in the startup phase, and while they might like a financial handout, they don’t necessarily need one. By helping existing businesses answer basic business questions to identify competitors, find expanding markets and niches, and become grounded, they will be able to grow and create jobs at a fraction of the cost of subsidizing a large corporation. I will promote a diverse crowd of SMBs in varying industries so that, if outside forces like the global economy, trade laws, or natural disasters negatively impact one industry, your community doesn’t completely crumble. Cultural diversity within SMBs is a great way to promote a strong community. It promotes tourism, it encourages communication and cultural exchange, and it can put your town on the map. When small businesses flourish, so does the local economy. Making local laws friendly to SMBs and cultivating a diverse environment goes a long way to helping people become entrepreneurs.
As a military veteran, I understand the importance of working across service lines to complete an operation for a “mission Win,” and I will continue this spirit of the cooperation as your county commissioner. We have grown tired of bipartisanship taking place because each party is deeply divided internally, thus creating ripe conditions for bipartisan alliances, or because there are strong partisan incentives for one party to cooperate with the other. This type of corporation perceived “quid-pro-quo” only widens the gap. When coming to the table with my constituents’ ideas or concerns in mind, I would see what the extremes were and then, with a bipartisan angle, began to chop off the ends until we get to the middle of the issue. Again, calling back on my Joint Service experience, you know the other’s capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Look, you play on the advantages as they relate to the overall objective. Then you offer compromises where they help or strengthen the overall goal. Eventually, you will get to a “common ground” answer that all can agree with. Afterward, you will need to establish a team built from both sides to monitor and report back to the partisim camps regularly.
Derrick Wilson (Democrat)
Candidate did not complete a questionnaire.