Chairman Gabe Okoye speaks to the BOC

Democratic Party chair: More diversity needed in Gwinnett’s leadership

By Curt Yeomans – Gwinnett Daily Post

Gwinnett County Democratic Party Chairman Gabe Okoye conceded that ultimately it’s the voters who decide whether they want someone from a minority population group representing them, but appointed officials?

That’s a different story.

Okoye stood before county commissioners on Tuesday and called on them to appoint more minorities to key positions in the majority-minority county’s government, including county administrator, spokesman, clerk and department head jobs.

“The county’s government does not reflect the diversity that is out there in the county,” Okoye told the Daily Post after the meeting.

Okoye’s call for more minority representation in leadership positions comes amid an ongoing backlash against Commissioner Tommy Hunter for comments he made on Facebook, including calling U.S. Rep. John Lewis a “racist pig.”

Okoye added that he believed the fact that Hunter made the comments in the first place might be a byproduct of a lack of diversity in the higher levels of county government.

“The structure in the county is not helping matters because it’s like the good old boys and a club,” he said.

While Okoye singled out the appointed positions, he also said adding more seats on the commission might help matters by shrinking commission district sizes and providing more positions for minority candidates to run for. He pointed to the Fulton and DeKalb counties, each of which have seven commission seats.

Among the 10 counties in the Atlanta Regional Commission footprint, only Fulton, DeKalb and Henry have more than five seats on their commissions, including chairman or CEO positions. Henry’s board has six seats, Rockdale’s has three seats and the rest have five-seat commissions.

Okoye pointed out there are some U.S. states whose entire populations are smaller than Gwinnett as evidence of why he felt the county commission should be enlarged.

 But on the issue of appointed positions, Okoye said that while Cobb County, which has more than 100,000 less residents than Gwinnett, also has a five-seat commission, its county manager is an African-American. Cobb also has one African-American commissioner.

“The commissioners are elected, I have no problem with that,” Okoye said. “But why is it that the County Administrator, Mr. (Glenn) Stephens is white, the deputy (county administrator) is white, (Communications Director) Joe Sorenson is white and the clerk is white.

“Is there no qualified non-white person for these appointed positions in a population of close to one million people?”

Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said the county is trying to increase diversity at the appointed level. Although there are not many minorities in appointed department head positions, there are some.

“We are certainly interested in adding more diversity at all levels within the county organization, including the senior management level,” Nash said. “I know that this is an objective as hiring decisions are made by staff, even as they focus on hiring the most qualified candidate for each position.

“We are making progress overall and anticipate that, as we have vacancies at the department head level, we will be able to promote and hire individuals who add to the diversity at that level.”