Byrne debates an empty seat at Press Club
by Jon Gillooly
August 16, 2012 12:55 AM | 3788 views | 18 18 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ATLANTA — Bill Byrne faced off against an empty chair Wednesday morning because the Atlanta Press Club elected to go on with a debate between the two candidates in the Tuesday runoff for chairman of the Cobb Board of Commissioners, even though Tim Lee did not attend.

“Mr. Lee declined to participate today, so he is represented by an empty chair,” said 90.1 FM WABE reporter Charles Edwards, who moderated the program held in the 1904-era Rhodes Hall off Peachtree Street in Atlanta.

Three other organizations have attempted to host debates between Lee and Byrne, but Lee has turned them all down, prompting their cancellation.

But the Atlanta Press Club went forward regardless, as executive director Lauri Strauss explained in an email to Byrne.

“We don’t think it is fair to penalize the candidate that is open to debating if one candidate declines,” she said.

The taped program will air at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday on PBA 30.

Devin Feely with 11Alive asked Byrne about statements he used a few years ago when attempting to qualify for a race in Polk County, comments Lee is using against him. Byrne is quoted as saying “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.”

Why would Cobb voters want to support someone so critical of their county, the reporter asked.

Byrne said the comments were taken out of context.

“The question to me as a potential candidate for office in Polk County is ‘would I bring the philosophies and policies from Cobb County to Polk County?’” Byrne said. “Polk County is a dramatically different county than Cobb is. At that time, there were only 38,000 people. It’s a very rural county. They still farm for a living there and don’t even have a sewer system countywide. My concept to them was you cannot bring Cobb to Polk. You have to build on what it is you are, not what it is you want to be, and I made that analogy.”

Jim Burress with 90.1 FM WABE asked that if Byrne intends to get the county’s budget under control by reducing property taxes, how does he plan to do this when property taxes are the county’s main source of funding.

Byrne said the county and nation are still in the middle of a recession.

“Our present chairman, Tim Lee, raised taxes six different times in a 15-month period of time,” Byrne said. “You don’t raise taxes on people in businesses in the middle of a recession.”

The total unemployment rate in Cobb is 16 percent, foreclosures are at record levels and property values have been reduced in value by one-third to the level of 2003, he said.

“Property tax revenues are a reflection of value,” Byrne said. “So the revenues are going to decrease. The impact on government has to be proportional to the monies available to run it, not increasing the taxes on people who are losing their homes, losing their hope and losing their opportunities.”

The moderator gave Byrne a chance to ask Lee — represented by the chair — a question.

Byrne said one of the biggest issues the county and region face is the proposed transportation tax, which was roundly defeated on July 31, but which state law requires to be brought before voters again in two years.

“After all the work and effort that you put into designing the TSPLOST project list for Cobb County and campaigning for it, promoting it, why are you now denying that you even supported the proposal?” Byrne asked the absent Lee.

Burress asked Byrne if transportation was a top concern for Cobb County, to which he said it was the No. 1 concern.

“Not only to move people but defining economic development as to where it is you want it to be in the future, and by contrast from where you don’t,” Byrne said.

But that doesn’t mean the TSPLOST was the answer, Byrne said, noting he opposed the TSPLOST for three reasons.

“I felt and still do that House Bill 277 is clearly unconstitutional,” Byrne said. Byrne said he has urged the Cobb Legislative Delegation to draft legislation in January to repeal the bill and start over with a workable regional proposal that will provide regional solutions that residents will support.

Feely asked about Byrne’s suggestion for east Cobb to consider forming its own city. Byrne said his motive for making that suggestion is not like the justification for the last few cities in metro Atlanta that have been formed.

“This is not a service delivery issue,” Byrne said. “Cobb County delivers services in a most professional way throughout the county. This is a local control issue.”

Byrne said that as chairman he often heard from various homeowner, business and civic groups in opposition to zoning issues whether the development was too dense, hurt schools or parks, or created traffic problems.

“The concept is local control,” he said. “If the city of East Cobb were created with a mayor (and) five city council people, the residents of that city can get to them a lot easier than they can get to the five of us.”

Burress asked Byrne about his reaction to an unscientific MDJ online poll showing that only 19 percent of voters were in support of a City of East Cobb.

“Marietta Daily Journal created a poll and asked people a question they heard nothing about,” Byrne said. “I would have said ‘no’ to it as well. When you explain the justification for it, and that this is not a mandate but to begin a discussion of ideas, then the interest changes dramatically.”

Byrne said he has a five-point plan involving the details of the proposal for residents to consider.

“It is not something that can or would be imposed,” Byrne said. “It would ultimately as previous cities have been created by a vote of the people that would be impacted by it. So it’s a ‘discussionary’ period. The east Cobb portion of Cobb County would become the first portion of our current county as history clearly defines that it’s going to begin the growth process the second time. Before that happens, passing on how they want their community to look like in the future should be their decision.”

Feely said Byrne has been a polarizing figure at various points in his political career. Feely said Lee has accused Byrne that such stances, like the anti-gay resolution of 1993, cost Cobb County the ability to host a venue in the 1996 Olympics.

“His point of view is we should not go a second term with someone that can be so divisive and polarizing,” the reporter said.

Byrne said it’s important to note that Lee isn’t talking about his own track record, but about Byrne’s.

“The resolution that you are referring to was exactly that: that’s an opinion of the majority Board of Commissioners,” Byrne said. “It was not intended to be nor was it ever a policy statement from Cobb County.”

A district commissioner named Gordon Wysong introduced the resolution and it was approved.

“It was a comparative analysis of belief: Do you believe in the concept of the traditional family value or do you support the comments and concepts of the growing gay rights agenda,” Byrne said. “I voted for that resolution. The response in 1996 from Billy Payne and the Olympic Committee was to remove volleyball from Cobb County because of that position. It didn’t remove all the assets and benefits that came from it.”

In his closing statement, Byrne pointed out Lee’s absence.

“It is very discouraging and disappointing that Tim Lee is not here to participate in this debate,” Byrne said. “This is not the first nor will it be the last. He has refused to debate me four times in the closing weeks of this campaign. That’s his choice. My choice is to be here. His choice is not. On Aug. 21 I ask for your help, your support, and your vote, and I assure you that on the 21st I’ll be there for you as well.”

Walking back to his car, Byrne said he thought the event went well. The downside, besides Lee not participating, was that they only gave him 60 seconds to respond to complicated questions, he said.

Byrne said he wanted to talk more about the TSPLOST.

“We’ve still got a major issue on our hands because by law we have to come back with a second round of project lists to be voted on in two years,” he said. “If we keep sending the same people back to the roundtable, we’re going to keep getting a square peg trying to fit into that roundtable.”

It will take an act of the Legislature to repeal the law, he said.

“I was very discouraged to hear the governor say last week when responding to a question from a media source about the 30 percent penalty issue,” Byrne said. “And he said, ‘well, it’s a part of the law, and as the governor I’m going to enforce the law,’ and I thought that was the bad message to send. That sounded to me like a very arrogant man that just got his butt kicked, and if that’s the leadership of the future, then we’ve still got a problem.”

The Journal asked Gov. Nathan Deal’s office about that statement. Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said the governor made no such comment.

“He is either purposefully misrepresenting the governor’s position or is just sorely lacking in reading comprehension skills,” Robinson said. “The governor has said we’re going to listen to Georgians, prioritize our state dollars and try to find solutions to our transportation problems. Just imagine what we could get done if we had more of that spirit of cooperation and less ignorant bluster.”
Comments-icon Post a Comment
Just Sayin'.....
August 17, 2012
Decided today to vote for the guy who showed up to the debate. If you can spend 364 days out of the year pandering and bowing to the guys at the chamber, you could have atleast spent one day pandering to the voters of Cobb County. Do not get me wrong, I am not gung ho for Byrne, but the guy atleast showed up!

Concerned a paper. The official rate is abetween 8.5 and 9 depending, the unofficial rate is actually hovering around 16%. But remember, this is only the "Great Recession."
Holy Moly
August 16, 2012
Mr. Lee has been absent for his entire political career. With him its not about the needs of the Cobb taxpayer, but rather the needs of the elite, especially the Fulton County Elite. The rumor was that he and the C of C/ CWM Co. have decided that if T Splost led to a premium bus service that maybe they could sell a fleet of Harleys with aroma therapy and massage services to our community. Chairman Lee, its no fun getting the short end of the stick (like you want to give us FOLKS) is it? BYE BYE to you and yours. You lose again in the run off.
Just Wait
August 16, 2012
Byrne debated an empty chair, and lost.
August 16, 2012
Isn't there a quaint saying that goes something like this:

"It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game."

Good Grief!!

Tim Lee is afraid to even take the field!!!

What does that say about his character or lack thereof?
Concerned Cobber
August 16, 2012
Did Byrne really say that the total unemployment in Cobb County is 16%? If so, he has doubled the actual number.
don't like either
August 16, 2012
I don't like either one but my mind is made up now simply because Lee refuses to debate. There has to be a reason for that.( Let the buyer beware!)
ole man
August 16, 2012
Not to vote is the reason our politicians only talk to voters when elections are near. Probably 20% will vote in the runoff election is shameful.

Most government positions are appointed, we should vote for those we can.

Byrne was not my first choice but Lee must go.
Vote Lee in runoff
August 16, 2012
I support Mr. Lee, he has done a good job for the folks of Cobb County. And Mr. Byrne is being called out by the Governor for lying. This is the stuff that made Byrne so bad last time around, lies, deceit, crazy ideas tcc.
August 16, 2012
The Governor's comment as characterized by Byrne may not have been accurately repeated word for word, but the message was still the same and Byrne got that right.

It was, based on what I understood the Governor saying after the TSPLOST defeat, a correct representation of what Deal meant.

Now his office is trying to walk that comment back and spin it so that the governor doesn't look foolish and petty.

A Master Stroke
August 16, 2012
An empty suit debating an empty chair.

August 16, 2012
Even if Lee had been there the chair would have still been empty!!
A Master Stroke
August 16, 2012
I have not seen the debate yet but the smart money is on the empty chair.
August 16, 2012
@ A Master Stroke

Actually the crooked money is on the empty chair aka Lee.

If Lee is re-elected the Chairman's chair at the commission meetings will still be considered empty.
August 16, 2012
Typical Tim Lee. The Pillsbury Taxboy.

I can't bring myself to vote for anyone who won't debate his opponent face to face. and

I reminds me of kids I used to know that would hurl insults at you from afar and then run away to their mommy.

The guy is obviously a coward and a dullard.

Byrne may be an irascible old cout, but at least he has some cahunas.

August 16, 2012
This was not a debate, it was another chance for Byrne to run his mouth and beat his chest.

Notice how he tried to pass the blame for all of his idiotic ideas off on someone else.
A Few ?
August 16, 2012
So Bill Byrne wants to get the Cobb Legislative Delegation to repeal HB 277. Ok, well that bill is the framework upon which the regions created their lists and held their votes. It is the framework that provides the taxing authority in those regions. Atlanta and 8 other regions in the state did not pass their lists but 3 other regions did. You cannot discount the voice of those citizens in those regions and simply repeal HB 277. Sorry but elections have consequences and HB 277 is not going anywhere.

Gringo Bandito
August 16, 2012
I would prefer an empty chair to Tim "The Taxman" Lee. At least an empty chair won't raise my taxes 6 times in a year and a half.
August 16, 2012
Hope they put a cardboard cutout of Tim Lee up there, that would have been the same if he was there. Any small bossiness owner that doesn’t have his employees go vote for Bill Byrne can expect Timmy to keep raising taxes and if you had a business that 16% tax increase was a gut punch!! With that type of tax increase you need to make another 30% percent in your business tough to do in this economy just look an all the big signs can you tell Lee’s in someone’s pocket!!
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