That was the question of the night during a meet-and-greet at the Chestnut Hill Subdivision Clubhouse on Monday.
The event, hosted by Chestnut Hill resident Tricia Knor, was billed as a meet-and-greet for Parsons and JoEllen Smith, who is challenging him in the July 31 Republican Primary to represent northeast Cobb in the Georgia House.
An intimate group of about a dozen or so turned out to question Smith on the issues as well as wonder why Parsons didn’t show.
Parsons told the Journal earlier in the day that he was waiting until after qualifying took place on May 25 before he would participate in such events.
One of the attendees, Ted Daywalt, a retired Navy captain who is CEO of VetJobs of Marietta, said Parsons has a reputation for avoiding his constituency.
Even though he’s lived here since 1980, Daywalt said he’s never met his representative, despite being active in local politics.
“I go to the Cobb County breakfasts and the functions and what have you, and I’m a delegate for the state convention,” Daywalt said. “I’ve never seen the guy. To me, it’s indicative of someone who is not truly representing the people that have voted him in, and that’s partially his fault. It’s also the people’s fault for not holding his feet to the fire.”
Another attendee, Kevin Jabbari, a broker with Chastain & Associates of Kennesaw, said he didn’t think Parsons made an effort to reach out to the community, either.
“Many years ago I saw him at a Chamber dinner, but since the district has changed he’s never showed up to many local meetings,” Jabbari said. “I don’t like it. You need people-people in there. You don’t need professional politicians. It’s time for a change.”
Knor said while she is supporting Smith in the race, having known her for years through their church, St. Andrew United Methodist, she was trying to be fair by inviting both candidates to meet her neighbors.
Mike Sansone, who lives in the Legacy Park Subdivision by Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews, said he felt strongly enough about Smith being elected that he showed up for the event even though he’s not in the district.
“She’s a very strong conservative, and I think would serve her community very well,” Sansone said.
Sansone said Parsons has a reason for not showing up to such events.
“The last thing Mr. Parsons wants is any press whatsoever,” Sansone said. “He’s expecting the voters to vote for the incumbent. He’s also expecting them not to recognize his name. So in a lot of cases if you don’t recognize either candidate’s name, you vote for the incumbent, and that’s what he’s counting on.”
Parsons wasn’t the only Cobb lawmaker to receive criticism during the evening.
“The status quo, the elite establishment in the Capitol, went bananas, because I brought something out in the open that they didn’t want in the open,” Smith said. “In fact, one legislator yelled and screamed, verbally attacking me in the parking lot.”
Smith said state Rep. John Carson (R-east Cobb) had recently “yelled at and berated her” for trying to alert the community about the status of the newly adopted reapportionment map the legislature approved for the Cobb School District.
Smith said she recently held a town hall meeting on the subject of the school board map after residents began contacting her, asking where the new boundary lines were going to be.
“They emailed me because I’m known as a education advocate in this area, and so I had a town hall meeting and said ‘Let’s talk about this and see what we can do,’” she said.
A few weeks later she ran into Carson in a parking lot and asked how he was doing.
“He proceeded to yell at me and berate me and said, ‘How dare you!’ I don’t remember all the language, but I was shocked, and he was yelling at me for having the audacity to hold a town hall meeting,” Smith said.
Carson went on to tell her that he had tried to cancel her town hall by calling one of the Cobb commissioners, Smith said.
“I said, ‘You can’t do that,’” Smith said. “It was the people’s meeting in a taxpayer funded Mountain View Community Center, and the people had a right to see the people’s maps and to be involved in the people’s business, and I asked him did he not even notice the hypocrisy of what he was saying and he didn’t. He just continued to yell at me, and yell at me that I had no right to do this. And I said, ‘You had no right to decide on the maps behind the people’s back, and I would also stand up for the people’s right to know, because I believe in openness and transparency.’”
Carson believed Smith did not have the right to share the school district map with the public, she said.
“I told him I was ashamed at him that he was so mad at the fact that he was going ballistic at me that I was bringing the maps,” she said. “I was absolutely shocked. (Lawmakers) didn’t want the public to know about it. They were being created behind the public’s back and I brought them out and he went ballistic.”
The reapportionment process has not been one of the prouder moments of the Cobb Legislative Delegation. While there may be complaints about the new Cobb School District map, at least the lawmakers adopted a new map for the school system.
Political horse-trading caused the map for the Cobb Board of Commissioners to sit in the Senate until the last day of this year’s legislative session, and as a result, no new map for the commission was ever adopted, something that has outraged both Joe Dendy, chairman of the Cobb GOP, and Melissa Pike, chair of the Cobb Democratic Party, since it leaves the county vulnerable to legal action.
Parsons, who chairs the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee, was first elected in 1994. He also does telecommucations consulting through his one-man firm, Don Parsons Telecom. Parsons and his wife, Jo Lynn, have two daughters and six grandchildren.
Smith has a background in marketing, PR and education. She is married to Lee Smith, a sales director for Boston-based Lux Research. The couple has two children.