Cobb’s sheriff named best in Georgia
by Sarah Westwood
July 26, 2014 04:00 AM | 149 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren, right, was named the state’s Sheriff of the Year by 158 of his peers Thursday during a conference at Lake Lanier. Warren said he loves his position because it allows him to be involved in the community. <br>Special to the Tribune
Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren, right, was named the state’s Sheriff of the Year by 158 of his peers Thursday during a conference at Lake Lanier. Warren said he loves his position because it allows him to be involved in the community.
Special to the Tribune
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MARIETTA — Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren was named the state’s Sheriff of the Year by 158 of his peers Thursday during a conference at Lake Lanier. Warren, who has served as the county’s elected sheriff for a decade, said he was “thankful” for the award. “When I look at the 158 other counties and sheriffs and I know I was selected by them, I’m real humbled,” Warren said. The Georgia Sheriff’s Association comprises the elected sheriffs of every county in the state as well as 45,000 “honorary members,” according to Nancy Bodiford, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office. Terry Norris, executive director of the association, said Warren was selected for his “character, professionalism and commitment to duty.” “His dedication to the safety of the citizens of Cobb County is illustrated every day through the manner in which the deputies and other staff of the sheriff’s office perform their duties. Sheriff Warren is a fine public servant and we appreciate his leadership,” Norris said. Warren is midway through his third term as Cobb’s sheriff. He has served in the sheriff’s office since 1977, where he began as a deputy to then-Sheriff Bill Hutson. He became the chief deputy sheriff in 1994 and remained in that post until he took the office’s top spot. “(Hutson) was real active in the Georgia Sheriff’s Association, which deals with a lot of laws and legislation that impacts not only Cobb County, but state and law enforcement,” Warren said of his predecessor. Hutson had only kind words for his former chief deputy. “He’s been a close friend, a good law enforcement officer,” Hutson said. “I’m proud for him that his peers have honored him.” Warren said he loves his position because it allows him to be involved in the community. “It’s the only office in law enforcement where you get to work directly with the people, with the citizens in our county and throughout Georgia,” he said. “We’re committed to our citizens, not only for protecting and enforcing the law, but also for being good stewards and citizens.” Warren highlighted the fact the sheriff doesn’t have to answer to a political body the way a chief of police does. “I answer to the people,” he said. “I know I can do what is right without being put in any type of political pressure from any other elected official.” Hutson, who turned the sheriff’s office over to Warren when he retired during his seventh term, said Cobb citizens should take pride in Warren’s award. “I think everyone in Cobb County should be proud of Sheriff Warren, not only for the job he does, but that’s a real honor that 158 other sheriffs chose him,” Hutson said.
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Bob for Cobb ... but not that Bob
by Joe Kirby, Otis A. Brumby III and Lee B. Garrett, - Around Town Columnists
July 26, 2014 04:00 AM | 70 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
THE BALKY ELEVATOR at the Strand Theatre caused Bob Barr’s Election Night party to have be moved to the old Theatre on the Square Tuesday evening — but that episode was emblematic of his campaign as a whole. Barr, a former congressman who’s still a household name in the 11th congressional District, entered the race for the seat last year as the clear frontrunner. Yet like the elevator, his campaign never really seemed to get off the ground. He raised plenty of money and hosted plenty of events, but his campaign never projected a feeling of momentum or excitement. The ever-ambitious Barr still seemed to have plenty of fire in his belly, and he dominated every debate in which he took part. Yet few people go to debates. Eventual winner Barry Loudermilk of Cartersville had the better-organized, more active campaign with legions of door-knockers working west Cobb subdivisions. Barr could never overcome the stigma of having left the Republican fold for the Libertarian ranks, and his ever-“evolving” stands on a parade of issues (gay marriage, illegal immigration, illegal drugs) left him an easy target for Loudermilk. And when Loudermilk brought to light a letter of recommendation Barr had penned in 2008 on behalf of Eric Holder for U.S. Attorney General, it left many in the district muttering “What the #*%$ was Barr thinking?” Barr also was stung when popular Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin endorsed Loudermilk, and Barr seemed clueless when he responded by ballyhooing his own endorsements by two of the least popular elected Marietta officials in the city’s recent history. In addition, his decision to dredge up fellow faces from the past such as former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, former Congressman J.C. Watts and has-been rocker Ted Nugent for endorsements didn’t seem to light many fires with voters either and contributed to his campaign’s sense of being “yesterday’s news.” THE BOTTOM LINE? Loudermilk beat Barr by a 2-to-1 margin and won all four counties in the district. Any candidate who cannot win his home county is usually doomed, and that was the case for Barr on Tuesday. He knew going in that he would have to win Cobb by a big margin. But he lost Cobb by 4,277 votes out of 22,905 cast. Barr’s share of the votes Tuesday (33.94 percent) was scarcely bigger than the share he garnered during the five-person primary (28.54). And interestingly, when one adds the percentages earned on primary night by Loudermilk (28.65), Tricia Pridemore (24.92) and Ed Lindsey (14.33), they come to an even 68 percent — essentially the same percentage Loudermilk polled Tuesday (66.06). In other words, during the runoff Barr was able to attract almost none of those who had supported the other candidates the first time around. nnn MUCH HAS BEEN MADE of how Georgia Republicans nominated a political outsider, David Perdue, to run for U.S. Senate this fall, and how they rejected three Congressmen in the process (Jack Kingston, Marietta’s Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun). That dynamic seemed to be at work in the 11th District race as well. Yes, Loudermilk was very much an insider during his service in the state Senate. But to many voters in the district, he was a fresh face when compared with Barr. THE OTHER BOB on Tuesday’s GOP ballot, District 1 Cobb Commission candidate Bob Weatherford, had a much happier time of things that evening, crushing former Commission Chairman Bill Byrne’s latest comeback attempt by a 61.5-to-38.5 margin. Weatherford had been one of the few willing to predict such a landslide, telling Around Town at the recent Sheriff’s Corn Boilin’ he would “smoke” Byrne. Turns out his crystal ball was right. The size of the win had Weatherford in a crowing mood as he declared victory just after 10 p.m. to a room crowded with close to 100 people on the second floor of the Strand Theatre. “Help keep me straight,” he said. “The good news is that I won. The bad news is that I won.” He attributed his win in part to the 8,000-plus phone calls made on his behalf that day. Among those in the crowd were a number of Cobb Chamber A-Listers, including Rob Garcia, Jim Rhoden, Devan Seabaugh, Greg Morgan and Mike Paris, all donors to Weatherford, whose Chamber ties had come in for heavy criticism from Byrne during the campaign. Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee, who recruited Weatherford for the run, was at that night’s commission meeting rather than the victory party, but probably was the happiest man in town thanks to his not having to face the prospect of having Byrne back on the commission. nnn MUCH has been made during Byrne’s recent campaigns about his unsuccessful 2008 attempt to run for the Polk County Commission a few years back, and the comments he made that were highly critical of Cobb in the process. (Byrne’s hopes were dashed after that county’s board of elections ruled he did not meet residency requirements.) Weatherford recycled the episode in his ads and referenced it again in his victory remarks. “I’m really worried about Polk County,” he joked to the crowd. “If you know anybody there tell them to leave quick! I’m sure Bill will run for something over there!” As for himself, Weatherford said he will “take a few days off. Try to stay out of jail. Ride my motorcycle.” And he added to the crowd, “I’ve got a Democratic opponent this fall (Derrick Crump). I have met him and he’s a nice guy. I will beat him with kindness.” nnn SPEAKING OF CRUMP, he picked up support from an unexpected corner in the wake of Tuesday’s results. An email from Byrne’s account written to a campaign supporter by Byrne’s wife, Babe Atkins-Byrne, and copied to AT by her Thursday complained now “West Cobb has no representation. You need to meet the Democrat who is running. He … seems to be smart and knows the issues. His name is Derrick Crump and he will get our votes. He has attended a lot of the forums where he participated and others when he was just there to observe. We like him — just as we have liked all of our opponents except Weatherford.” “I’M NOT GOING TO DISNEYWORLD — I’m going to Cooperstown!” an exuberant Cobb Superior Court Judge-elect Ann Harris happily announced to supporters as she declared victory at her party late Tuesday night at The Local. Cooperstown, N.Y., is where Atlanta Braves legends Bobby Cox, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddox will be inducted Sunday into the MLB Hall of Fame. An added plus for Auburn alums Harris and husband Jim is a fellow Tiger also is being inducted that day, retired slugger Frank Thomas. Harris, a senior assistant Cobb district attorney, pulled off arguably the biggest upset of all in this campaign season, outlasting two better-known opponents (Juvenile Judge Juanita Stedman and repeat candidate Nathan Wade) in the non-partisan race to succeed retiring Judge Jim Bodiford. Stedman seemed the clear favorite of much of Cobb’s political establishment. Her donor list and runoff night party were packed with a veritable “who’s who” of well-known faces. Harris’ party was equally crowded, but with more of a “who are they?” group of supporters. She was endorsed by her boss, D.A. Vic Reynolds, was cheered on by Reynolds’ predecessor Pat Head, and among those smiling at her party was 1980s/’90s-vintage D.A. Tom Charron, now Cobb Superior Court administrator. nnn MORE POLITICS: Candidate for state school superintendent Richard Woods will be guest speaker at today’s Madison Forum breakfast at The Rib Ranch. ... Loudermilk won handily Tuesday, but it was hard to find much enthusiasm for his candidacy — or Barr’s — in Cobb. As one local politico told Around Town at Wednesday’s Marietta Rotary meeting, “It was like trying to choose between a colonoscopy and a root canal.”
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Infrastructure improvements coming to east Cobb
by Ricky Leroux and Sarah Westwood
July 26, 2014 04:00 AM | 121 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott looks over plans with Jane Strickland with Cobb County Department of Transportation at the intersection of Windy Hill Road and Circle 75 Parkway on Friday. <br>Staff/Jeff Stanton
Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott looks over plans with Jane Strickland with Cobb County Department of Transportation at the intersection of Windy Hill Road and Circle 75 Parkway on Friday.
Staff/Jeff Stanton
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MARIETTA — About a billion dollars’ worth of infrastructure improvements are coming to east Cobb over the next two to three years, according to Commissioner Bob Ott, who represents the area. Ott also said many of these improvements are unrelated to the Braves stadium deal and have been in the works for some time. Among the biggest projects are a “diverging diamond” interchange at the intersection of Windy Hill Road and Interstate 75, improvements to Windy Hill Road east and west of the interstate, a complete reconfiguration of the interchange at Atlanta Road and I-285 and “reversible lanes” coming to I-75. The number and scope of the projects in the area prompted Ott to put together a committee of 20-25 government officials to coordinate between all the departments involved, including the water authority, parks and recreation, transportation, communication and information services departments. “It just seemed to make sense that we bring all these groups together so that everybody knew what everyone else was doing, and also so that we could coordinate communication with the public as to where there might be congestion today or next week,” Ott said. Ott said the information services department was brought in to help disseminate the information about the projects and their impact on traffic. “Some of the early discussions have been enhancing or beefing up some of the systems the county already has. We have the Friday updates. We have CobbLine,” Ott said. “It’s really all about what is the best way to get the information out to the most number of people.” The committee is also working on a new mobile app being developed to help citizens track the projects and the resulting traffic, and Ott said he hopes it will have the ability to provide users this information in real time. In addition to public outreach, Ott said the committee has also made it a priority to coordinate their efforts so any work requiring a lane closure can be done at once, instead of closing the lane multiple times. “If you have a plan to coordinate lane closures, where if one department is going to have it closed for this period of time, if another department would have closed it, well, hey, let’s have everybody in there at the same time whenever possible,” Ott said. Windy Hill Road getting major facelift The county plans to begin construction on at least four major projects along Windy Hill Road in the next two years. Three of the projects, near the intersection of Windy Hill Road and I-75, are set to begin this fall, according to Jane Stricklin, District 2 Engineer for the Cobb Department of Transportation. Stricklin said the county will open bids for the projects August 28, with commissioners later approving the contracts. Stricklin said designs for the three projects were paid for by the Cumberland Community Improvement District and construction for all three projects is likely to begin in October and be complete by March 2017. The first project will include adding a median and additional lane on each side of Windy Hill Road from Cobb Parkway to I-75 and replacing existing sidewalks along the Windy Hill stretch. The project is estimated to cost a total of about $14.5 million, which Stricklin said would come from the 2011 special purpose local option sales tax. Ott said this is essential to improving traffic flow through the corridor, especially since the Macland Road Connector opened in 2011. “When Macland Road was connected to Windy Hill, it added 14,000 cars a day to Windy Hill,” Ott said. East of I-75, from the interstate to Spectrum Circle, a second project will add a median and reconfigure the existing six lanes into three lanes traveling in either direction. Stricklin said the project, also financed with 2011 SPLOST funds, is estimated to cost a total of about $4.7 million. Ott cited safety concerns, as well as traffic flow improvements, as the reason for this project. “There has been some safety concerns in front of Pappadeaux’s restaurant,” Ott said. “And so, what’s happening is, the traffic light currently at Leland and Interstate North (Parkway) is basically being moved in front of Pappadeaux’s. And so they’ll be some realignment of Leland Drive to come out around behind the BP that’s there.” A third project on Windy Hill Road from Spectrum Circle to Windy Ridge Parkway will add a westbound lane to ease congestion. Sidewalks on the westbound side of Windy Hill will be replaced as well. Stricklin said the project is estimated to cost a total of $3.3 million and will be financed with 2005 SPLOST funds and a $1.5 million grant from the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank, which was obtained by the Cumberland CID. The fourth major project to improve Windy Hill Road is the diverging diamond interchange to be built on the bridge over I-75. The interchange is designed to allow vehicles to cross to the opposite sides of the road on the bridge when entering or exiting the freeway, eliminating the need for those drivers to make left turns. The county is waiting for approval of the project from the Georgia DOT and the Federal Highway Administration, Stricklin said. The intersection of Windy Hill Road and I-75 has been studied for at least a decade, Stricklin said, and the county decided to implement the interchange because he said it is projected to reduce accidents, it is cost-effective and the county can use the existing bridge, rather than building a new one. Stricklin said the interchange is set to be funded by a combination of a $2.4 million grant from the GTIB, a $6 million grant from the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program and about $5 million from the Cumberland CID; the remainder of the $20 million project will be financed with 2011 SPLOST funds. Stricklin said the Cobb DOT is looking to break ground in fall 2015 and complete the interchange by March 2017. Reversible lanes and stadium traffic The state transportation department will attempt to thin traffic in and out of Atlanta by laying roads that funnel commuters in different directions depending on the time of day. Georgia’s “Managed Lanes” project will add nearly 30 miles of reversible toll lanes along the west side of I-75. Stricklin said the lanes, which will head south in the mornings and north in the evenings, would be completed by 2018. GDOT lists the estimated project cost as $834 million. The lanes will run near the new home of the Atlanta Braves. Even though a Cobb Superior Court judge validated the bonds the county plans to issue to finance the stadium’s construction Friday, there will be a period of 30 days to allow for appeals, according to Board of Commissioners Chairman Tim Lee. And even after the appeals process ends, it will likely take 30 to 60 days for the county to have the money to pay the construction firm, Lee said, though he noted construction has already begun on the site to adjust the grading and move two gas lines that run through the property. Ott said the upcoming road improvements are unrelated to the Braves stadium. “Clearly these improvements were contemplated prior to the Braves, but they’re not going to hurt what’s going on with the Braves. They’re going to help,” he said. “And I think what needs to happen between now and opening day is to take a look and say, ‘Here’s what we already have in the pipeline. Do we need to have some other projects that will further enhance it?’” Ott said county officials have a meeting about the Braves project about every two weeks, and the DOT is currently looking into possible solutions to increased traffic in the area. Still, these projects were a priority for his committee. “It’s an ongoing process. You have to get stuff out of the ground so you know those are going to move forward, then you continue analysis as to what additional things you want to do for the Braves,” Ott said. Private growth and public improvement Rob Hosack, the county’s community development director, said the area has seen a burst of development ahead of the infrastructure improvements. “We have seen a really big uptick,” Hosack said. “What’s interesting is we actually started seeing this in advance of the Braves development.” Hosack estimated “conservatively” the Cumberland area has hosted $250 million worth of new construction in the past two years — and said he expected to see the same type of investment over the next two. The county put together three master plans outlining a vision for the area’s development, Hosack said, specifying where “intensely-developed” quarters would go and where “cushion” quarters of less development would fall. “I think we created a lot of buy-in,” Hosack said of the master plans, adding businesses were encouraged to bring development to the area once the county “had a blueprint to follow.” He highlighted the growth of residential development around the area, touting the construction of two new “in-town residential communities” that will provide apartment living in proximity to both the urban locale of Cumberland and trails that will allow residents to walk to Chattahoochee National Park. Hosack said the complexes offer a “huge incentive” to both commercial and residential developers mulling a move to the area. He said the county transportation department has “done a great job getting out in front” of impending traffic interruptions that will accompany all of the construction activity. “(Cobb DOT) has got a very detailed plan, taking into account not only the construction related to road projects, but also the stuff we anticipate being under development in the private sector,” Hosack said.
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