GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. - One after another, for 2 1/2 hours, they stepped up to the podium.
Some carried signs. Some carried anger. Most, if not all, carried the same message.
They wanted Gwinnett County, Georgia, Commissioner Tommy Hunter — who recently called civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis a "racist pig" on Facebook — to resign.
“Your words have consequence and effect, not only to you but to the citizens of Gwinnett County,” said Wesley Person, a local defense attorney and one of the dozens of protesters who spoke Tuesday afternoon at a meeting of Gwinnett’s Board of Commissioners. “Because now our county is looked at as some backwater, small-minded, Southern municipality when we are much greater than that.”
Hunter, who was first elected to serve Gwinnett’s District 3 in 2012 and narrowly won re-election in November, conceded Monday that his words were likely “an overreaction” and read another statement Tuesday apologizing for his word choice.
Board of Commissioners Chair Charlotte Nash, meanwhile, broke her silence on the matter by reading an apology letter she said she sent directly to Lewis on Tuesday morning.
“I am writing you today to offer my sincere apologies and regrets for the disrespectful comments about you posted on social media by a Gwinnett district commissioner,” Nash read during Tuesday’s meeting.
“I want to assure you that the remarks posted by one commissioner do not reflect the opinions of the Board of Commissioners as a whole, nor do we condone the use of social media to spread negative thoughts about any individual.”
She added that “using hurtful words and name-calling should not have a place in governing,” and asked Lewis for the opportunity to apologize in person.
Letter from Gwinnett County Chairman Charlotte Nash to Congressman John Lewis: pic.twitter.com/WZX7qKJgPh— Tony Thomas (@TonyThomasWSB) January 17, 2017
Hunter’s employer, Norcross-based United Consulting, issued a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution late Tuesday calling the commissioner’s Facebook posts “abhorrent” and saying they “in no way reflect the policies, beliefs or corporate culture of United Consulting.”
The company also forwarded a letter that it said was sent to Lewis.
“Our company has a long and diverse history of action and commitment in the minority community that is reflected by our personnel and our work within the community that is reflected in every employee from myself to every team member,” said the letter, signed by CEO Reza Abree.
“Again please accept my sincerest apologies for Commissioner Hunter’s post.”
Hunter’s own statement in front of protesters and his fellow commissioners at the start of Tuesday’s meeting was met with chants of “Resign, resign, resign.”
“I understand emotions are high and many are upset about the post,” Hunter said. “I apologize for the choice of words I made in my comment about Congressman John Lewis. John Lewis is a leader in the civil rights movement and is to be commended and emulated.
"That doesn’t mean I’ll always agree with him politically. I will not allow baseless accusations of racism against me or anyone to keep people from speaking up when something is wrong. I’ve learned a lot from this and will continue to work hard to serve all of District 3 and the people of Gwinnett County.”
Hunter, who has previously told various media outlets that he won’t resign, became the center of controversy on Monday after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published screenshots of several posts on his personal Facebook page. The “racist pig” post was written Saturday afternoon amid a well-publicized feud between Lewis and President-elect Donald Trump.
The post, which since been taken down, also referred to Democrats as “Demonrats.”
Before Tuesday’s meeting, Hunter’s social media activity led the Gwinnett County Democratic Party to call for his job, and the Georgia Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations to do the same. Another group, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, released a statement Tuesday urging Hunter to “immediately schedule a series of meetings with our organization and other organizations that serve communities of color in his district to discuss our grievances.”
The Gwinnett NAACP released a statement late Monday denouncing Hunter's comments, asking him to apologize and urging his fellow board members to break their silence.
Nash did that, but fellow commissioners Jace Brooks, Lynette Howard and John Heard have not.
Toward the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Heard said he “embraced” and was “proud of” the protesters who gathered to have their say, but he did not address Hunter’s comments directly.