2020 Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Candidate (Democrat)
GPCID Guest Blog Post: Lee Thompson Jr.
Introduction: Gwinnett Place CID has asked candidates running for both the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners Chairman and the Gwinnett County District One Commissioner to answer several questions explaining their vision for the County and Gwinnett Place.
Lee Thompson, Jr. is a lifelong resident of Gwinnett County. He has practiced law in Lawrenceville for nearly forty years and his firm has served as City Attorneys for the cities of Sugar Hill, Duluth, Grayson, and Lawrenceville, and as attorneys for the Gwinnett County School District. Lee was a member of the first class of Leadership Gwinnett in 1986, has been active in many civic organizations, and served in the Georgia House of Representatives. He and his wife, Connie, live in Lawrenceville and are elders of the First Christian Church of Lawrenceville. Their daughter Rebecca is a senior in college.
Learn more about Lee, by clicking here.
1. Why are you running for Chairman, Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners?
Answer: I am running for the Gwinnett County Commission Chair because I have the knowledge and experience to serve in this position and because I am passionate about the future of Gwinnett County. I grew up in Gwinnett County. This community has provided me with the opportunity to grow a successful business and has been an ideal place for me and my wife to raise our daughter. Just as I have observed the advantages of change and growth, I have seen the problems caused by poor decisions.
I’ve had the privilege of working alongside dedicated public servants who give of their time and make sacrifices to make their community a better place. I have learned that people of different backgrounds and different perspectives can listen to one another, learn from each other, and set aside differences to work together. I have learned that integrity is the most important trait in a leader and can never be sacrificed for a temporary gain.
I believe that Gwinnett County is about to experience dramatic changes and that its best days are yet to come. I want to use my experience and all the things that I have learned over the years to pursue creative, bold new directions for our county, and to help Gwinnett County achieve accomplishments that we have not even considered.
2. Where are your favorite places to spend time in the Gwinnett Place area and why?
Answer: As a child, I visited my grandparents who lived near the current site of Corley Elementary school. As a young attorney, I frequented Gwinnett Place Mall when it first opened. My wife and I shopped there, ate at the surrounding restaurants and went to the movies. In the last few years, I have enjoyed eating in the area restaurants such as Breakers Korean BBQ, attending events at the Sonesta Gwinnett Place Atlanta and Democratic functions at Sweet Baby Jane’s. As a person with short arms, I have also relied on the services of El’gant Alterations, who have done an excellent job altering the length of my shirt sleeves for the last fifteen years or so. The area provides a good variety of local businesses and a nice opportunity to experience a taste of other cultures.
3. What do you see as the role of CIDs in Gwinnett, and how would you work with the Gwinnett Place CID, if elected?
Answer: CIDs are outstanding partners for Gwinnett County government and the local cities. CIDs only exist because the local business owners and land owners are committed to maintaining and improving their local community. As Gwinnett County Commission Chair, my first task would be to listen to the leadership of the Gwinnett Place CID and of all of the other CIDs in the County to determine how they believe that the County government can assist in improving the quality of life in their communities.
As a local government attorney for over three decades, I understand the importance of public-private partnerships in attracting businesses and spurring redevelopment. I have worked on redevelopment projects in four different cities, and I believe that Gwinnett County could learn from those projects. If local business owners are willing to tax themselves to make needed improvements, the County should be willing to use its many resources to assist these CIDs in maintaining existing businesses and attracting new businesses. Gwinnett Place CID has a unique problem in Gwinnett Place Mall, and the County must use all of the development tools it has to assist with the redevelopment of that mall.
4. If elected, will Gwinnett Place be a priority for you? If yes, what is your vision for the Gwinnett Place area?
Answer: Should I be elected the next Chair of the Gwinnett County Commission, Gwinnett Place would definitely be a priority for me.
The Gwinnett Place Area of Influence is of great importance to the County. With approximately fourteen percent (14%) of the county’s retail space, ten percent (10%) of the county’s office space, and seven percent (7%) of the jobs in Gwinnett County, the maintenance and improvement of this area must be a high priority for the County.
My vision for the Gwinnett Place area is to maintain its vibrant businesses, its ethnic and cultural diversity, and its strong economy while addressing the obvious need for redevelopment of a nearly empty mall at the center of the area. The failure to redevelop the mall has kept the area from being even more important to the Gwinnett economy. Gwinnett County should be an active participant with the CID in developing creative and bold ideas on how to redevelop the mall in a manner that is most beneficial to the area and the entire County.
5. What is your vision for transit in Gwinnett County?
Answer: Gwinnett County must embrace public transportation. The failure to approve public transportation plans for the last thirty years and to include public transportation in planning decisions has created traffic gridlock and hampered economic development and the quality of life for all Gwinnett residents. My vision for transit in Gwinnett includes an easy link to the existing MARTA lines and inter-county transit system that moves people around Gwinnett County in a manner that encourages people to use the system. The system should also include bike lanes and pedestrian connections that are well positioned to encourage use and get people out of their cars. Any transportation plan will have to be considered in every land use decision made by the County.
5a. How will you bring transit to Gwinnett Place?
Answer: As a result of its location near the center of the county with direct access to I-85, any transportation plan must include Gwinnett Place as a hub for all modes of transportation. Eventually, I envision some type of rail service to the area. What type of rail and at what date in the future will depend on finances and what plan can be approved by the voters.
5b. Do you endorse the Transit Review Committee’s plan submitted to the Board of Commissioners in February?
Answer: I believe the plan is acceptable as a starting point. Each of the plans being considered by the County Commission has advantages and disadvantages. The most important thing at the present time is to place a plan on the ballot that can be approved and to get the process started and revenue earmarked for transit. Gwinnett’s repeated failure to approve some type of public transportation funding has placed the county in a difficult position.
6. Gwinnett Place Mall has extended beyond a local issue to become a national punchline, around the topic of the “dead mall.” How will you address Gwinnett’s dead mall problem?
Answer: The “dead mall” property must be redeveloped as soon as possible.
6a. If elected, what would be your plan for the mall site?
Answer: My plan would be for the County Commission to make redevelopment of the mall a top priority. I would be prepared to use all resources available to the county to address the issue. These resources would include the Development Authority, the Urban Redevelopment Agency, the Housing Authority and private partners. Working together, I would ask these groups to develop a creative plan of redevelopment. If the plan involved the county acquiring land or making public improvements to make the plan feasible, those possibilities would be considered.
6b. How will you work with the Gwinnett Place CID to accomplish your plan?
Answer: Any redevelopment plan would have to start by listening to the ideas of the CID. The CID has lived with this issue for years and probably has a number of ideas to be considered. For any plan of redevelopment to succeed, it would need the support of the CID.
7. During the last SPLOST, of the $486,343,270 in transportation funding available, the Gwinnett Place area only received $9 million. Had the CID not had a list of potential projects prepared and shared information about transportation needs in the area with SPLOST committee members, it is likely even less in SPLOST transportation funding would have been allocated for the area. How will you ensure greater equity in future SPLOST funding distributions for Gwinnett Place?
Answer: The most important part of any SPLOST referendum is the planning phase. Once the project list is approved and included in the public education phase of the process, the county has limited legal ability to deviate from the plan. An equitable distribution of funds can only be achieved by good planning that includes representation of all areas of the county.
8. Gwinnett County and the Gwinnett Place CID collaborated on the ACTivate Gwinnett Place plan focusing on area infrastructure. However, most of the projects outlined in the plan are not fully funded. What is your plan to address this issue and move these projects forward?
Moving the infrastructure plans proposed in the ACTivate Gwinnett Place plan forward would be much more likely to occur as part of a plan for redevelopment of the mall. Pursuing these improvements during redevelopment of the mall would allow these improvements to be carefully designed to integrate with this redevelopment and would offer additional sources of funding. Funding competing priorities is always one of the biggest challenges for any government. Investing in infrastructure improvements as part of an overall redevelopment of the mall is the most likely way to create funding of the improvements.