Lee wants to include $100 million for a Bus Rapid Transit line down the Cobb Parkway corridor on the list of projects to be funded by the upcoming SPLOST. Another $300 million from other sources would be needed to complete construction of the BRT, plus untold millions more each year for operating costs.
The BRT would start in Acworth and continue south to the Midtown MARTA station. The Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax would raise an estimated $750 million over its six-year life. Voters will have their say on the SPLOST — and possibly on the BRT — in a November referendum.
The BRT seems already to be a dead issue with most of those with whom Around Town has talked. There is no enthusiasm for its heavy cost, no sense that it will do anything to relieve congestion and, as best AT can tell, no eagerness to ride it.
Nor is Lee finding it an easy sell to his fellow commissioners. To date, none of the other four are willing to agree to put the BRT on the SPLOST ballot, and he cannot do it unilaterally. Meantime, Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin is the only mayor to seem publicly enthused about the BRT.
THE BRT is essentially a reincarnation of the “premium bus line” proposed in the TSPLOST referendum that was clobbered 70-30 by voters two years ago. And Northwest Cobb District 1 Commission candidate Bill Byrne, one of the leaders of the anti-TSPLOST movement back then, says the BRT is just as unpopular.
Speaking of “popular,” there’s no love lost between Lee and Byrne. Lee is openly backing former Acworth Councilman Bob Weatherford, who says he is undecided on whether to support the BRT, although he supports the SPLOST. Weatherford’s weaving on that question, however, has fueled talk that he is playing coy with voters but will ultimately side with Lee and the Cobb Chamber. The Chamber, rightly or wrongly, is perceived by many as pushing hard for the BRT behind the scenes. Meantime, Byrne is finding the BRT a ready-made issue with which to cudgel Lee, Weatherford and the Chamber.
SPLOSTs and bond referendums are always controversial in Cobb County. Voters turned down an extension of the original SPLOST back in the late 1980s, then later said no to a SPLOST extension proposed in 1998 by then-Commission Chairman Byrne that included money for a monorail-type line tying Town Center and Cumberland malls. They also have rejected the original school SPLOST attempt in the mid-1990s and various other school and bond referendums through the years. They’ve said “yes” to such proposals as well — but only if the proposals were well-crafted, appeared low in “wants” (as opposed to “needs”) and were pushed by strong, widely respected leaders.
That last point is crucial. Most local officials appear on the ballot only once every four years. If voters have grown disenchanted sooner than that with their leaders, they’re apt to see a SPLOST or bond proposal as a surrogate for that unpopular leader — and vote against it to “send a message.”
LEE’S popularity has waxed and waned during his tenure. He’s enjoyed a rare spurt of enthusiasm from the public since the announcement last fall that the Atlanta Braves were moving here. Yet opponents of the move have done an effective job of making it appear he was heavy-handed in the process and the move lacked transparency. He also was widely criticized after refusing to bend the commission’s “public comment” guidelines to allow critics of the move to speak at a meeting last month after supporters got there early and snapped up all the allotted slots.
And by pushing the BRT so hard, Lee risks eroding the residual popularity he built up from the Braves’ move, which will be ancient history to voters by November. He’s not due to be on the ballot himself again until 2016, so he apparently feels he has time to get back in voters’ good graces regardless of what happens to the SPLOST and BRT. But don’t be surprised to see an effort by some to portray the SPLOST (with or without the BRT) as a de facto referendum on Lee — and even the Braves move — as well.
COMING UP: Marietta author Russell Bonds will give a talk on his book, “Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase,” at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Marietta Art Museum, said director Sally Macaulay. The talk is meant as a tie-in to the current exhibit of paintings about the chase and other Civil War/Southern themes by the late Wilbur G. Kurtz that runs through July 3. ...
The Science Channel show “How It’s Made” will focus on The Brumby Chair company and the process by which its rockers are assembled at 9 p.m. Thursday.
FORMER state GOP Chairwoman Sue Everhart of east Cobb has endorsed Jack Kingston in the runoff race for U.S. Senate.
“Jack Kingston has been in the trenches with Georgia Republicans for over three decades fighting for the causes you and I believe in,” she said. “He is one of us, a lifelong Georgia Republican with a proven conservative record of service.”
THE JULY 8 CANDIDATE FORUM co-sponsored by The Acworth Business Association and the Cobb Chamber of Commerce is more than two weeks away, but the sniping is already well under way between District 1 Cobb Commission candidates Bill Byrne and Bob Weatherford.
“I will debate him anytime, anywhere and under any circumstances,” Byrne told AT this week. “He is John Loud’s candidate, and I would think Loud is getting tired of seeing Weatherford get his ass kicked. But if he wants to go into Acworth and do that, I’ll be more than happy to oblige.”
Loud is owner of Loud Security and is managing Weatherford’s campaign. Loud has become somewhat of a controversial figure as of late thanks to his high-profile role boosting the Atlanta Braves’ move to Cobb.
Byrne and Weatherford will meet in the July 22 GOP Primary runoff for the District 1 seat.
Weatherford told AT that Byrne’s comments were “typical Byrne. He also said I would be last in the election, and that didn’t prove right either. So you have to take what he says with a grain of salt.”
“I don’t use profanity and I don’t believe my butt’s been kicked. He came up off his stool at the last debate and waggled the mike at me because I reiterated some of the ridiculous statements he’s made through the years about the BRT. He says he’s not for it. I said, ‘You were for it before you were against it because you proposed a monorail from Town Center to Cumberland Mall when you were commission chairman.’ He said he wanted people to have ‘the Disneyworld experience.’ He didn’t like that.”
Byrne also told AT that as long as the talk is about issues, Weatherford “doesn’t have a prayer, because he’s on the wrong side of them from a voter’s perspective.”
Answers Weatherford, “Unlike Mr. Byrne, I don’t say ‘no’ to everything. I do my research before I comment about things and thus far I’m on the right side of all the issues the people want.”
Byrne opposes the BRT and Weatherford is on the fence about it.
About the only thing the two seem to agree on is that Weatherford, in fact, is “John Loud’s candidate,” as Byrne put it.
“Loud is my campaign manager. Of course I’m his candidate,” Weatherford said.
Loud has strong ties to the event’s co-sponsor, the Cobb Chamber, and Byrne has tried to portray Weatherford as the Chamber’s candidate. Byrne even said last month he would boycott all Chamber events if he gets elected due to the heavy influx of campaign donations to Weatherford from Chamber brass.
Which in turn prompted this crack on Friday from Weatherford: “I wonder if he’s even going to show up at the forum since he said he wouldn’t take part in any event sponsored by the Chamber. Maybe there’ll just be an empty chair. If he’s there, I’ll ask him why he’s supporting a chamber-sponsored event.”
Added Weatherford, “I plan to send him back to his Polk County horse farm on July 22. And you can put that on the record if you like.”