The Cobb Republican Party candidate forum allowed much more interaction between contestants than previous events, giving each candidate who is attacked a chance to respond to the criticism. Current Chairman Tim Lee took advantage of this by waving transcripts of a 2008 Polk County Election Board meeting, in which he said opponent Bill Byrne blasted Cobb County during his testimony, an issue Lee had addressed in a campaign mailer last week. Byrne, who served as Cobb chairman from 1992 to 2002 before attempting to run in Polk County, responded that Lee’s campaign for Tuesday’s Republican Primary was desperate.
“I felt it was important to let people who had come to Cobb County in the last 10 years and the folks who have lived here for the last 20 have a reminder of the way Bill Byrne used to conduct himself as a chairman,” Lee said in response to a question from Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Janel Davis. “I felt it was important to let the community know exactly how he feels about Cobb County. I took offense when I first read that copy … I love this county. I worked hard for this county to make sure that the citizens of Cobb County have what they deserve.”
Byrne said that the “slick sheet” Lee sent out claimed that he had run for Polk county commission in 2008, but in reality he never actually ran.
“Tim, can you refresh my memory, did I win or lose that race?” Byrne asked.
Lee responded that Byrne didn’t run, “because you tried to run for a race that you weren’t qualified for.”
That was a reference to the decision by the Polk County Election Board that determined that Byrne wasn’t a resident in the county, where he owns a horse farm.
“That statement was a lie, I did not run in Polk County,” Byrne said, claiming that because he was disqualified, he didn’t actually run.
Lee said the sheet was accurate, and Byrne tried to run, but the election board saw through his “games.”
The mailer Lee’s campaign sent out quoted Byrne’s testimony from the hearing: “The last thing I wanted to do is live in Cobb County, let alone serve in Cobb County. I want to make damn sure Cobb County doesn’t move to Polk County. I live in Polk, I love this county and want to make sure that we preserve and protect this quality of life, and make sure Cobb County doesn’t move here.”
When the MDJ’s Joe Kirby followed up with a question asking whether Byrne felt Cobb County was as bad as he said it was, Byrne responded that the comment was accurate but taken out of context.
Byrne said Polk County is a much smaller, more rural county than Cobb, and that he was answering a question about whether or not he would bring Cobb’s success to Polk County, and he was merely saying he didn’t want to impose Cobb’s way of life on Polk.
“My answer to that question was then as it is today, you cannot duplicate what Cobb County did in Polk County, because what Cobb County is and what Polk County is are two different things,” Byrne said. “You have to build on what it is you are and not what you want to be. And until this county, meaning Polk County, makes a commitment for a countywide sewer system, you cannot bring what growth happened in Cobb County to Polk County.”
Lee responded that there was nothing in the transcript about what Byrne claimed, saying Byrne’s statement disavowing Cobb was a response to a question about why Byrne dropped out of a 2006 chairman’s race against Sam Olens.
Byrne also said Lee’s campaign made “robocalls” to primary voters that accused him of everything from illegal land transactions to political kickbacks, while Lee said his campaign had nothing to do with the calls.
“These are things that you are hearing from a campaign that has imploded,” Byrne said. “I know where we are in the polls, and this is the reaction to it.”
When WSB-TV reporter Ross Cavitt asked if he had a response to the back-and-forth between Lee and Byrne, retired east Cobb businessman Larry Savage said it was probably time for a “change of pace” in the forum. But earlier in the day, Savage was calling out the fourth contestant in the race, retired Marine Col. Mike Boyce.
Savage sent an email to Boyce, who left Wednesday’s forum after 45 minutes to attend an already scheduled campaign event, and several of Boyce’s supporters questioning Boyce’s position that he should be elected chairman because he was a Marine officer, which gave him “mayoral” responsibilities, and that he is also a budget expert.
“It is unclear what he actually did in his various military postings that relate to the Chairman’s position and it is unclear what is meant by ‘budget expert,’” Savage wrote.
Among Savage’s questions were whether Boyce was responsible for a water department, court system and jail and traffic problems, as well as queries about his claims to have run a $50 million business with 400 employees.
Savage further questioned Boyce’s military service, wanting to know what he flew and why he gave it up.
Boyce responded by providing the MDJ with discharge documents showing he received numerous medals while in the Marines between 1971 and 2001, including Meritorious Service medals for leading a helicopter squadron as a pilot. In total, he said he had more than 4,000 hours of flying time in the military.
Boyce also said he was responsible for the morale, welfare and recreation department for his Marine base in Hawaii while on active duty. This meant dealing with private entities that were required to make a profit and overseeing 450 employees.
“I had to run that business just like everybody else did,” he said. “If you didn’t make your profit, we didn’t keep you open.”
In fact, Boyce said he could take a county organizational chart, and find an equivalent of what is on the chart to nearly all his responsibilities in the military. That includes water, sanitation and parks departments.
Savage said Wednesday that he sent Boyce the questions because he doesn’t understand why a man who has said so little during the campaign is getting support.
“I know people who will vote for Tim Lee because they know him and like him, I know people who will vote for Bill Byrne for the same reason,” Savage said. “But Mike Boyce, people are getting behind him for no reason. I know that Bill Byrne and Tim Lee have been beaten half to death, and Mike Boyce is getting a free ride, and people are getting a little bit fuzzy about asking him a question.”
Boyce said he doesn’t understand why Savage decided to question his military record, but said he hopes to get support from 48,000 military veterans in Cobb.
“I don’t know why he went down this road, I’m disappointed, but I have too much respect for Larry Savage to let it bother me,” Boyce said. “If you’re going to go after a military person, you’d better have your facts straight. We live and die by honor.”
The winner of Tuesday’s primary is expected to serve a four-year term as chairman, starting in January, because no Democrat qualified for the nomination.
The two-hour forum, held at Cobb GOP headquarters, attracted 90 audience members. Among them were candidates for other offices including district attorney candidates Vic Reynolds and Cindi Yeager; Superior Court Judge candidates Reuben Greene, Van Pearlberg and Greg Poole and Superior Court Clerk candidate John Skelton. Others on hand included Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews and Councilman Tim Killingsworth, lobbyist Michael Paris and former Commissioner Thea Powell.