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.”