It was as if a shock wave rolled through Duluth and the rest of Gwinnett County Thursday (May 31) as news spread that Gwinnett County Commissioner Shirley Fanning Lasseter had pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Atlanta to accepting $36,500 in bribes for her potential favorable vote on a proposed real estate development.
Everyone that Duluth Patch called so far for a comment replied that they were “shocked.” And saddened by the news, too.
The vivacious redhead served as mayor of Duluth for 14 years before running for the Gwinnett County Commission and getting elected. Lasseter resigned from the commission the same day as she entered her guilty plea in court. Since she did not run for re-election, her first term would have expired at the end of the year.
“It’s very sad news. I don’t know a lot of the details yet. I’m just learning about it,” said current Duluth Mayor Nancy Harris. “The citizens I’ve talked to are very shocked and sad. She was mayor for 14 years, and she has a lot of friends and supporters in Duluth.”
"I was just in shock," responded Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash. "We have worked really hard in the last year to repair the damage done to the image of the Gwinnett Commission and the image of Gwinnett County," Nash said. "I'm just sick for Gwinnett County."
Judy Wilson, president of the Duluth Historical Society, commented: “I’m shocked. I just can’t believe it.”
“I’m shocked just like everyone else,” said City Clerk Teresa Lynn. “She was mayor for 14 years and worked with different councils, Phil [McLemore, retired Duluth city administrator], myself and other employees. We are all shocked…disappointed and hurt.”
“I just pray for her and hope for the best,” Lynn continued. “I really don’t know the full story yet.”
"I was just shocked," said community leader Kathryn Willis. "I really was. I just couldn't believe it because she was always such a champion of our city."
“I hate to see Shirley go out like this,” remarked former Duluth city councilman Doug Mundrick, who retired in 2011 after 16 years on the council. “She did some good things in Duluth. People should not lose sight of that. She always had a positive attitude and was a booster for Duluth. It’s just really sad.”
“When she was mayor, she did not have a vote,” he said. “Developers seeking rezoning always called Shirley and invited her to have lunch. But not having a vote meant she really didn’t have a say. It came down to what the five councilmen had to say. Shirley didn’t always agree with us, but I don’t think she ever influenced any votes on developments in Duluth.”
Incidents like this have a negative impact, Mundrick said. “The average man sitting at home watching TV turns to his wife and says: “See, I told you they [politicians] are all crooks.'”
“People lose faith in government and their trust in officials to make right decisions that are not tainted by someone passing a buck to somebody,” he said. “It pains all city, county and state officials. It reflects badly on me and other folks who work diligently and honestly for the betterment of the community.”