Lee blamed Byrne for a failed monorail proposal, a failed recycling plant, and a failed art exhibit, while Byrne characterized Lee as the taxman for the multiple tax hikes or continuations he’s pushed as chairman.
“The ‘T’ in Tim stands for tax,” Byrne said, also characterizing Lee as a RINO — Republican In Name Only — beholden to special interest groups.
Countered Lee: “People believe that I’m moving forward with good ideas and that’s what they’re going to believe in, as opposed to moving forward by using the rearview mirror and wanting to take us back to the 1980s,” Lee said.
Lee has refused to debate Byrne, as evidenced by his no-show Wednesday at a debate hosted by the Atlanta Press Club. Byrne attended and responded to questions, and the 15-minute “debate” will be televised at 9:30 a.m. today on PBA 30.
The incumbent continued his money advantage, having raised $56,455 since Aug. 1, he told the Journal on Friday. His run-off donors ranged from Town Center CID spokeswoman Mary Lou Stephens, who gave $1,300 to Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO Sam Williams, who gave $1,000.
Byrne, meanwhile, said he raised between $6,000 and $7,000 for the runoff, but insisted Lee’s cash haul won’t keep him in office.
“Tim’s outspent us 6:1,” Byrne said. “I’m guessing we’re in a dead heat or slightly ahead. He’s got to catch me, I don’t have to catch him.”
Byrne said he estimates turnout for the runoff will be about 10 percent of Cobb’s 398,052 registered voters. In the July 31 primary, 31 percent of Cobb’s voters cast ballots. Lee said he had no idea how many voters will go to the polls for the runoff.
Lee and Byrne are on the Republican ballot, but there is no known opposition for the seat in the Nov. 6 general election.
Byrne plans to watch returns on Tuesday night at the Marietta Conference Center. Lee will be at the Embassy Suites in Kennesaw.
Byrne was county chairman from 1993 to 2002, when he resigned to run for governor. Lee said the economy grew significantly under Byrne’s tenure — through no help from Byrne.
“In fact, every major decision he made in the ’80s was a bad decision — from Bedminster to monorail to the gay resolution to the Russian art,” Lee said. “Every time he had a chance to make a decision, it was a bad decision, and it caused harm to Cobb County.”
The Russian art Lee referenced was an exhibit called “Sacred Art of Russia” which then-east Cobb commissioner Gordon Wysong brought to the Cobb Galleria in 1994.
The Journal reported at the time that Wysong was accused of pressuring developers such as Cousins Properties to support the exhibit in exchange for approving zoning applications. The exhibit was a financial bust, closing with millions in debt and owing rent to the county-subsidized convention center.
Byrne said he had no idea why Lee was blaming him for the art exhibit.
“Cobb County Government, let alone Bill Byrne, had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with that,” Byrne said. “(Gordon Wysong) invested into a Russian arts program on a personal basis and financed public viewings at the Galleria solely as an individual.”
As for the monorail accusation, Byrne said he personally studied the feasibility of a monorail running from Dallas Highway in west Cobb along State Route 120 to Gwinnett County.
“All of that is a four-lane divided highway, and this would be an elevated monorail in the median,” Byrne said. “And Georgia 400 was providing a MARTA expansion all the way up to State Route 92.”
Byrne’s plan was for the east-west monorail to connect with the MARTA line, creating a regional transit system.
After the county commission unanimously approved the idea, Byrne said, the Atlanta Regional Commission did the same.
Then-U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s office secured a $3 million grant to pay for the required analysis and that money went to the ARC, Byrne said.
“Now this is where it really gets nasty,” Byrne said.
The ARC secretly changed the concept, proposing instead that MARTA circle Interstate 285, he said.
“When I found out, I went absolutely ballistic, because the study came back that that wouldn’t work, doesn’t work and don’t ever try it again,” he said. “You can’t trust (the ARC), and you can’t work with them. … I will never trust them again.”
The monorail proposal then “died on the vine,” although Byrne said no one in Cobb paid a dime for it.
As for Bedminster, Byrne acknowledged problems but said in the end, the project “did everything it was intended to do.”
In 1994, the county contracted with Newton, Mass., Bedminster Bioconversion Co. to operate a compost plant off what is today County Services Parkway. But the plant was defective, catching fire on occasion, producing a stench and operating at an annual loss that went into the millions.
In 1999, the county took over operations, and a decade later sold the plant to Smurfit-Stone Container Corp.
Byrne said the compost plant was in response to a new state law mandating metro counties reduce their solid-waste stream by 25 percent, a law that has since been repealed. To comply with the law, Byrne said, the county could burn the waste, create a landfill, or build a composting facility.
Incineration was the first choice, until Georgia Power backed out of the deal, Byrne said. A landfill was found to be financially, environmentally and politically unfeasible. The county then turned to composting and hired Bedminster to build a plant.
“Their technology, we found out, was about 75 percent workable,” Byrne said.
The plant burned down twice and was rebuilt by Bedminster’s insurance company. The second time it burned, the county fired Bedminster and took over operations, Byrne said.
“Now from the day Bedminster was hired through a series of about five votes, it was a 5-0 vote every single time,” Byrne said. “It wasn’t a Bill Byrne Bedminster plant.”
The county then restructured the plant’s operations using county staff, and the county’s solid-waste stream was reduced by about 35 percent, he said.
“It did everything it was intended to do,” Byrne said. “Under Sam Olens’ administration, the Board of Commissioners made the decision to get out of the composting business and privatized it. … The concept of Bedminster from beginning to end was filled with problems, but the end result was a total success.”
Byrne also said Lee is talking about Byrne’s record to avoid talking about his own record of various tax increases Lee has supported, including the March 2011 county SPLOST; the 2011 county property-tax hike of 16 percent; raising water fees by 12 percent; supporting the failed TSPLOST that would have raised sales taxes for 10 years; and supporting a $3 million environmental impact study “to justify projects that have been rejected by Cobb’s voters”; and proposing a permanent one-percent sales tax increase to finance county government services.
“In the primary election of July 31st, Cobb County voters rejected the Tim Lee-designed TSPLOST by 69 percent of the vote, and 61 percent of the voters rejected Tim Lee as well,” Byrne says in his latest ad, urging voters to oust Lee and take back the county from special-interest groups. “I am asking for your help, support and vote on Tuesday, August 21 and return to the conservative values and policies that have defined Cobb County as the true leader of the region in the past.”
News editor Kim Isaza contributed to this report.