Around Town: Olens: Byrne’s ‘City of East Cobb’ proposal translates to more government, more taxes
by Otis Brumby, Bill Kinney and Joe Kirby
Around Town Columnists
August 11, 2012 12:27 AM | 6335 views | 25 25 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
IF YOU’RE RUNNING FOR OFFICE as a small-government, low-tax conservative, why would you suddenly float a proposal to create a new local government that would inevitably be funded by additional taxes?

For the answer to that question, you’ll have to ask the candidate who uncorked it this week, once and possibly future Cobb Commission Chairman Bill Byrne, who is locked in an Aug. 21 runoff race against incumbent Chairman Tim Lee.

Byrne on Wednesday raised the possibility of creating a new city in what is now unincorporated east Cobb, with boundary lines to be drawn by the county legislative delegation and then to be ratified by a referendum. He characterized his proposal as a way for east Cobb residents to put themselves (rather than the county commission) in the driver’s seat when it comes to rezonings and development when the economy reawakens.

“If you create a city … the city council determines the growth policies, and when the economy comes back, east Cobb is going to explode again, and I think they should be the ones to determine what they’re going to look like,” he said.


BUT MANY WERE QUICK to pan Byrne’s plan as a pander aimed at voters in east Cobb, which is Lee’s home base. There has been no groundswell for such a city, and at first blush, his push doesn’t seem likely to start one. East Cobb hasn’t exactly been underrepresented on the commission. Two of its five seats are by law filled by east Cobb residents. The chairman is elected at large, but has been an east Cobber (now Lee, and formerly Sam Olens) since 2002. And Byrne, who now lives in Marietta, formerly was an east Cobb homeowner.

Yes, Sandy Springs and Milton were finally allowed by the Legislature to incorporate as cities in recent years. But those moves were prompted by widespread resentment in north Fulton that citizens were getting second-class municipal services from the Fulton County government despite paying a disproportionate share of county taxes.

By contrast, the Cobb government has a long-standing reputation (to which Byrne contributed his share) for delivering top-quality municipal-type services (police, fire, sewer, etc.) throughout the unincorporated areas.

As Olens (now Georgia’s attorney general) told Around Town on Friday, “One thing that Cobb is already well-known for is the quality of its services. Those cities in north Fulton felt totally disenfranchised and were getting no services in return for excessively high taxes. That’s not the pattern in Cobb. It provides great services for much less in taxes.”

Byrne’s proposal would have the county continue to provide those services to the new city for a nominal $1 a year fee. He’s also calling for the county to hand over $1 million from its capital improvements budget to the new city for the design and construction of a city hall.

But as one former municipal official told AT, that would leave the county with less money for other projects.

“And would this inspire a Mableton or Vinings to become a city and have the county, with limited funds already, construct city halls for them?” he asked.

No matter which way you slice it, Byrne’s proposal boils down to adding a new layer of government, a new bureaucracy. And in addition to any other taxes it might levy, it would be a government with the power to levy 4 percent franchise fees on certain types of businesses — something counties cannot do.


BYRNE SEEMS to have shot himself in the foot. He’s been hammering Lee for a year for having raised taxes repeatedly. But he now has negated one of his best arguments for why people should vote for him. His abrupt push for more government was such a shock as to bring to mind comparisons with the unexpected shifts in position once taken by legendary Gov. “Zig-Zag Zell” Miller.

Said Olens, (who is backing Lee), “When you look at the lack of commercial base in east Cobb, which is predominantly residential, it is inconceivable that (creating a new city there) would not lead to a property tax increase, and on those who are not asking for it. You’d be hard-pressed to show a new city that was created anywhere that did not result in an increase in taxes. Plus, it is inconsistent, if you are running as a conservative, to be proposing more government and at greater cost to taxpayers.”

Byrne had begun the week with momentum on his side, thanks to Lee’s decision to duck a televised MDJ debate against his challenger. But unfortunately for Byrne, his city proposal quickly overshadowed any harm Lee may have done to himself by his refusal to debate.


COBB’S SIX CITIES would be dwarfed by a “City of East Cobb,” both in terms of population and land mass. With approximately 190,000 people living east of Interstates 75 and 575, the new city — despite lacking anything resembling a traditional downtown — would not only be bigger than Marietta (56,000 people) and Smyrna (51,000) combined, it would also be bigger than all but three other Georgia cities: Atlanta (420,000), Augusta (200,000) and Columbus (189,000).

Would the mayor of such a huge city, whoever he or she is, be content to preside over a city government that offers little in the way of services and a council that is little more than a glorified zoning board? Or would that city’s bureaucracy wind up suffering from “mission creep”?

Byrne’s plan brings to mind the effort by east Cobb Commissioner Gordon Wysong 15 years ago during Byrne’s chairmanship to create a “City of Cobb” by incorporating the unincorporated areas of the county. That proposal quickly died on the vine — which is likely to be the fate of Byrne’s cut-rate version of the Wysong plan.

The bigger question is whether Byrne’s “city” surprise will hurt him come Aug. 21. And early indications are that it just might.


SPEAKING OF OLENS, he not only will be addressing the upcoming GOP National Convention in Tampa, he also will serve as a co-chairman of the Platform Committee’s subcommittee on Healthcare, Education and Crime.


ON TUESDAY CANDIDATES in the Aug. 21 runoff were invited to speak at the monthly meeting of the Cobb Young Republicans at Johnnie MacCracken’s Celtic Pub off the Marietta Square. But while Tim Lee and Cobb Superior Court clerk candidate Rebecca Keaton were there and spoke, their respective opponents, Bill Byrne and John Skelton, were not.

“I did not receive any sort of formal invitation to this candidate forum that the Young Republicans held even though I was at their last meeting,” Skelton told Around Town. “They had a candidate meet-and-greet the Thursday before the election. I was at that. They didn’t say anything about a candidate forum.”

Skelton told AT he received no email or call about the invitation to speak.

“Bill Byrne and I were equally left out in the cold. Draw your own conclusions,” Skelton said.

Byrne told the Journal he knew nothing about the event either.

Skelton is running in the GOP Primary but has not been previously involved in local Republican politics, unlike opponent Keaton, who has the backing of most of the local party’s power structure.

Katelyn Ledford of Marietta is in her second one-year term as chair of the Cobb Young Republicans. (Full disclosure: Ledford is an ad rep for the MDJ assigned to north Cobb. The MDJ’s advertising and news departments are entirely separate.)

Ledford told Around Town that on the morning of the event, she emailed the candidates in the run-off, inviting them to come.

“I apologize that I am just now personally contacting you, I know the Facebook invite has been up for several days and I didn’t realize y’all hadn’t been emailed as well,” Ledford wrote to the candidates. “Cobb YR’s has our meeting tonight and wanted to make sure to invite y’all to speak. We will be drawing numbers for the order in which everyone speaks.”

The email was sent to Byrne, Lee, Keaton and State Court Judge candidates Larry Burke and Marsha Lake on Tuesday morning.

“The only one I did not get a chance to send an email to because I could not find his email address was John Skelton,” Ledford told AT. “But I sent it to his Web site and I have the kick-back from his Web site from where I put it in the comment section when I sent it to him.”

Ledford also pointed out that she had posted a notice on her group’s Facebook page the prior Thursday, but to have seen it you have to be a member of the Cobb Young Republicans Facebook page group.

Ledford said the Young Republicans meet the first Tuesday of every month at MacCracken’s.

“In a run-off you would think the Republican candidates would try to get their foot in the door to any type of event like that that would be going on,” Ledford said. “So I sent (Byrne) an email and I sent it to him at the same time I sent it to anyone else. I didn’t tell anyone else beforehand and it was on Facebook Wednesday or Thursday.”
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Greg DeBacker
August 14, 2012
As a CPA and former candidate for West Cobb Commissioner I must express my opposition to creating additional cities in Cobb.

Creating another city will create additional costs and overhead, which will require additional taxes (in whatever form) for funding.

As long as the residents are being well served by the Cobb County government, there is no benefit in creating a new city as Byrne's proposes.
August 13, 2012
In most instances where city taxes are higher than unincorporated areas the cities are being double taxed for services.

In other words, because the the cities are geographically located in the county, the county still charges them for various services such as police and fire even though a city may have it's own police and fire department and already provide those services to city residents.

In other words they are redundant services. The county, rarely if ever, has to provide those services to the the City but they still charge for them.

This has been an issue in various comminiities in the Metro Atlanta area for decades.

Just Google Double Taxation of Municipalities

If correctly conceived, a City of East Cobb could pay the same or even less ad valorem taxes than it does now.

As far as a healthy commercial tax base in concerned, I think East Cobb may have enough commercial tax base to make this idea work.

The upside would be more control over land use and zoning and a political leadership closer and, at least in theory, more responsive to the voters.
August 13, 2012
Sam thinks that’s a bad idea for the city of East Cobb but he was on board with a regional mayor he would probably be the ARC mayor. If we had a regional mayor than they would be able to impose taxes over a five to ten county wide region. Sounds like a back door TSPLOST.
August 13, 2012
There are many people who think that the City of East Cobb idea thrown out by Bill Byrne is a bad idea.

And it very well may be.

But should that prevent at least a preliminary investigation of the pros and cons of such a suggestion?

Surely if we can waste several millions of dollars on studies for a light rail line that we absolutely KNOW will never be built, we can look into a City of East Cobb concept?

I will bet that Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia or even better, our own KSU or SPSU would be more than happy to do an indepth analysis for free.

It would be interesting and a great project for some very bright graduate students.
sad day
August 13, 2012
“I did not receive any sort of formal invitation to this candidate forum that the Young Republicans held even though I was at their last meeting,” Skelton told Around Town. “They had a candidate meet-and-greet the Thursday before the election. I was at that. They didn’t say anything about a candidate forum.”

Skelton is running in the GOP Primary but has not been previously involved in local Republican.

In a run-off you would think the “Republican” candidates would try to get their foot in the door to any type of event like that that would be going on,” Ledford said.

Mr. Skelton if you are a “true” republican then why are you not a member of the YR having being to their meetings as you stated to AT. I guess it is easier to blame Ms. Ledford more so than the fact that you and your campaign committee dropped the ball.

Mr. Skelton shouldn’t be blaming anyone but himself for not being involved in his local community period! RINO “Republican In Name Only” You lost my vote =(

Not a politico
August 13, 2012
I'm curious to know what "How Republican Someone Is" has to do with being able to run a large office. Is understanding computer systems a bit of partisan knowledge? Is working well with and respecting others unimportant?
August 12, 2012
The fact that the local Republican "power structure" is backing Keaton tells me that they have no idea what goes on at the Clerk's office, and apparently they don't care. Keaton is all about her politics, but she clearly does not understand the Clerk's office and had to be told that the Real Estate Division is a part of that office recently (a HUGE part of that office if you didn't already know that). Do we want someone with this lack of info running that office? Absolutely not!! John Skelton knows BOTH sides of the Clerk's Office. He has also worked in both sides of that office and knows how important the Real Estate Division is. Vote for Skelton and don't put any stock in "Party Politics" if you want our Clerk's Office to continue to be one of the best in Georgia.
Integrity counts
August 13, 2012
Facts speak for them self about Mr. Skelton.

At the GOP debate held several of weeks ago Mr. Skelton stated:

1. He voted in the 2008 Presidential Democratic primary(according to Georgia Sectary of State.

2. The County Clerk’s office does not need computer upgrades for E-Filing over the internet: however, Ms. Davis and Ms. Keaton stated they support internet filing. Funny thing now is he’s going around telling everyone he supports internet filing…. I know… he change his mind, reminds me of John Kerry the great flip-flopper and yes Mr. Skelton also voted in the 2004 Presidential Democratic primary(according to Georgia Sectary of State.

According to Mr. Skelton’s mailer he is a criminal attorney, can someone tell me how many cases he has represented in Cobb Superior Court or any Superior Court here in Georgia?

One last thing about the Skelton camp; Elva Dornbusch stated to MDJ she was stepping down from running for Cobb County Superior Court Clerk due to health reasons and will be retiring in December 2012 when Mr. Stephenson does, now we see she’s Skelton’s deputy, what happen to her health?

Skelton and Dornbusch have absolutely no integrity in my eyes….

Integrity Counts??
August 13, 2012
Seriously, do you even know John Skelton? Or is your name Peggy Young and are you part of Keaton's smear crew. Skelton has more integrity in his pinky finger than Keaton does period. He's a class act. He has practiced criminal and primarily Real Estate law in Cobb for a long time. He actually worked at the Clerk's Office for several years in both divisions. Most of all, he has made a strong effort to run a clean campaign despite being urged to fight back against Keaton's smear tactics. He may have once voted Democrat, but that does not mean he is a Democrat. That whole argument is lame and party politics are the main reason our country is in such terrible shape. Ms. Keaton needs to get her facts straight and quit spreading lies about Mr. Skelton. Her tactics are shameful and we should not reward her with ANY public office. Voting Skelton AGAIN, and I hope you will too.
Cobb voter
August 14, 2012
No this is neither Ms. Young nor the smear crew (scrapping the bottom of the barrel when calling out a volunteer don't you think), WOW that's real low and to my amazement the race has sparked me to do some checking on all candidates and their (accomplishments), including the chairmen’s race as well. (To bad Mike Boyce didn’t make it in the runoff.)

What I haven’t seen from the other candidates unlike Mr. Skelton who is blaming/whining as he has being doing so in the paper about forums. I want the next clerk to be the right person for the job for Cobb County Citizens as a whole not a clerk who spends his and or his campaign committee time by attacking women.

Integrity counts
August 14, 2012
@ Integrity Counts??

No this is also neither Ms. Young or the smear crew, what sparked my interest in this race was several weeks ago coming out of the Rite-Aid there on Whitlock I saw a guy waving and holding a sign for Rebecca Keaton, at that time an individual driving by, honks and flipped him off , I thought to myself, that’s real low and to my amazement, another car drives by and does the same thing, after that I wanted to know who Keaton’s opposition was because if the supports have no integrity then what is the candidate like so did some checking.

Obviously my questions will never be answered and now integrity counts?? (Whoever you are) calling out a woman who is not a candidate, you just have no class and who smearing who? Shame on you.

Not flipping birds
August 15, 2012
Did you ever think that those folks that were rude to the sign guy don't care for Keaton and her incessant running for office. Skelton would not stoop to telling his folks to do that, so don't assume that he did. He has kept his side of the campaign clean, but unfortunately Ms. Keaton in her desperate need to be elected has resorted to dirty tactics. Nobody has mentioned the fact that several of her "endorsers" she so proudly brags about NEVER gave her permission to use their names. How's that for character?
Cobb Voter10
August 19, 2012
Skelton's camp running a clean campaign....REALLY....Dornbusch sending out Emails from her county computer to friends and other county employees saying vote for her and Skelton, THAT's running a clean campaign, that's a clear violation of the  HATCH ACT.......
August 12, 2012

Really, Ms. Ledford?
August 11, 2012
Is it coincidence in the snubbing of Mr. Skelton that Ms. Ledford is a financial backer of Ms. Keaton?

And she decided to e-mail candidates the *day of* the forum? Even though it may have been published on Facebook for a few days, professionals plan events and invite participants with more notice. It was known before the sun rose on August 1 that a runoff would be in effect! (By the way, I received Mr. Skelton's mailing before the July 31 election, and it has both his e-mail and phone number. Surely a self-proclaimed Republican insider such as Ms. Ledford would also have received the mailer!)

Gotta Agree
August 16, 2012
This part of the story jumped out at me, too. I don't know enough about Mr. Skelton or Ms. Keaton to know which I support, but this does seem a little lame on the organizer's part.
Been Byrned Once
August 11, 2012
Where is Bill going to find a million dollars? I can't imagine that the County has a million sitting around so perhaps he plans to hijack the water system and get it from them? Or raise taxes? And another layer of government? Did Ott come up with this idea? Where is he now that the idea has tanked? Hiding perhaps? And where is he going to find millions for the other areas that may want to become cities while each so called City guts tax revenue for Cobb? Been Byrned once, don't plan for this to happen again.
August 11, 2012
I'm disappointed in Ledford. As the leader of such an influential group, she's showing a bit of slack, which is typical of today's young people. Not everyone checks facebook pages every two minutes, and I believe invitations should be extended formally to events. I'm just an observer here, but deal with younger people every day. Facebook, by traditional standards, does NOT rule. An apology the morning of a major event, with no move to mitigate, is rather lame. Ya'll.
ECobb Lover
August 11, 2012
Thank you Sam Olens. All of our EC electeds interviewed yesterday, Hill, Cooper, Ott, Birrell wussed out. This is par for the course from our General Assembly memebers, but heck, even our own Commission reps didn't even assertively defend our County government and the high quality of services we get for a very reasonable tax rate. That is really pitiful. EC Cityhood is a terrible idea and totally unnecessary.
Connie Mack Jr
August 11, 2012
Breaking News... A New City in East Cobb was incorporated today by a overwheming vote by the residents of East Cobb. It will be called Byrne City and the first elected Mayor Bill Byrne said today, " First we bannish Marietta from the State and than seize Fulton County while they are not looking and finally we sell Atlanta to a Wall Street group control by President Romney. After that we march on the State of Georgia as Sherman did and make sure that no 1% Republican can fly from Atlanta to Tybee Beach"
Mike in Milton
August 17, 2012
Sounds like he proposed it...dosen't sound like he's pushing for it. Does old Marietta feel threatened?
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