GWINNETT, Ga. - Members of the Gwinnett County Board of Ethics unanimously agreed to recommend a public reprimanded for Gwinnett Commissioner Tommy Hunter.
The ruling comes six months after Hunter called Congressman John Lewis a "racist pig" on Hunter's personal Facebook Page. In January, Hunter apologized for the comment, but said he would not resign.
Demonstrators have spent months pressuring him at commission meetings to change his mind.
"The fact that he is still here just irritates me, especially after everything John Lewis has done to inspire all of us--not matter what color we are," said Susan Clymer, who waited at the Justice Center for hours for the decision. "I've been a part of this movement to get him out for months because he just isn't right for our county," the Duluth resident added.
Tuesday, the four board members ruled the reprimand should be posted on the county's government website and on the Gwinnett County Courthouse bulletin. The goal, they said, is to send a strong message about the remarks Hunter made and later apologized for in January. The Board of Commissioners will have the final say on the matter after a public hearing to be held within 30 days.
“A great deal has been said about issues of free speech, but the underlying issue is that you have to be accountable for that free speech,” said Ethics Board member Charles Rousseau. “It's the proverbial 'Throw the rock and hide your hand.' At some point, you have to accept the consequences that come with this.”
Neither Hunter nor his attorney, Dwight Thomas, were on hand at the courthouse for the long awaited announcement. But by phone, Thomas told Fox 5's Portia Bruner Hunter's actions didn't rise to this level of discipline. ”Accountability should be held at the ballot box, not on matters of free speech. This is America. You may not like what somebody says, but they still have the right to say it. And it's not like he said this in a commission meeting. It was his personal Facebook page,” Thomas said.
Thomas said he expects to get another day in court to argue why he believes the Ethics Board and any recommendation members make are unlawful and unconstitutional. “I would suggest the Board of Commissioners move wisely on this. This could be a slippery slope if they follow this recommendation,” Thomas added.
Attorneys for Hunter opponents call the recommended reprimand a win and insist their fight to get Hunter out of office doesn't end here.
“I think the residents of Gwinnett are rising up. They don't think this is good representation and they're going to keep up the fight to get him out. We hope the Board of Commissioners acts swiftly on this,”
said attorney Helen Kim Ho who filed the ethics complaint with attorney Christine Koehler.
“We are pleased with the integrity of this board and for Tommy Hunter to come in during the last six days of this process and act like he's the victim in all of this—it would be offensive if it wasn't so laughable,” said attorney Christine Koehler.