Cobb politics headed out of the holiday deep freeze
by Joe Kirby, Otis A. Brumby III and Lee B. Garrett, - Around Town Columnists
January 04, 2014 12:00 AM | 4176 views | 0 0 comments | 78 78 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WELCOME TO THE NEW YEAR — which finds the Cobb thermometer headed toward the single digits and the political climate headed for a heat wave.

District 1 Northwest Cobb Commissioner Helen Goreham’s surprise decision last week not to seek a fourth term amounts to a belated, unexpected Christmas gift to former Chairman Bill Byrne and an unintended lump of coal for Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee.

Byrne had already been eyeing a run against Goreham and her exit leaves him as by far the best-known figure in what could soon be a crowded field seeking to succeed her. And Goreham’s pending departure will leave Lee without the commissioner who had become his strongest and most dependable ally on the five-person board.

Not only that: A successful Byrne run for Goreham’s seat would catapult Byrne into prime position to run against Lee again for chairman in 2016. Byrne clawed his way into a runoff against Lee in the 2014 chairman’s race and came within 1,200 votes (out of 27,300 cast) of winning.

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SO WHY did Goreham choose to head for the political sideline? Part of it could be burnout after nearly 12 years in office. The New York native is known for doing her own research, for being in command of the facts and for having what one politico described to Around Town this week as a “Chris Christie style.”

Goreham’s exit is doubly surprising in that many saw her as the strongest potential candidate for the chairman’s seat in the 2010 special election to succeed Sam Olens and were disappointed that she chose not to run.

Yet while Cobb has seen few commissioners more eager and more able to go toe-to-toe with critics than Goreham, there’s little doubt she knew she would be vulnerable to a challenge in this spring’s Republican Primary.

Goreham first riled conservatives in her district by voting with Lee (and then-Commissioner Woody Thompson) in 2011 to raise the property tax rate to 11.11 mills from 9.60. Critics said the county should have cut services instead.

Taxes and immigration are hot-button issues in Cobb, and Goreham also voted last spring against adopting the federal IMAGE ordinance for Cobb, which is designed to ensure that jobs funded with tax dollars go only to those in this country legally. Approval would have required contractors and their subcontractors hoping to do business with the county to show that they had applied for IMAGE certification.

But after first telling the MDJ she supported the IMAGE program’s goals, Goreham began to waver, found herself the “swing” vote on the commission and ultimately sided with Lee and Southwest Cobb Commissioner Lisa Cupid against its approval.

Goreham also was a key vote for Lee in his efforts this fall to bring the Atlanta Braves to Cobb, but while that vote undoubtedly upset tea partiers, it probably gained her support from the many Braves fans in her district.

Byrne, for the record, is generally supportive of the Atlanta Braves’ move to Cobb.

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BYRNE is the best-known of those seeking to succeed Goreham, but is not the only one. Retired Marietta Assistant Fire Chief and Fire Marshall Scott Tucker has announced he will run in the GOP Primary as well. Tucker has lived in Cobb for nearly 50 years and retired from the city last month after nearly 30 years on the job.

“I was responsible for being a bridge between local businesses and county, city, state, and federal officials to help businesses comply with code and keep things moving forward. That is the kind of cooperative, pro-business spirit we need on the county commission,” said Tucker.

The former Cobb Chamber “Firefighter of the Year” now owns a small steel fabricating business and a small real estate company. He and wife, Cindy, live in Kennesaw with their three children, the oldest of whom, Logan, just went to work as a Cobb firefighter. His other two children attend Mount Paran Christian School, where Tucker serves as a volunteer wrestling coach.

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A NUMBER of others have been eyeing a run for that seat.

Keli Gambrill, who heads one of west Cobb’s largest homeowner associations, told Around Town last year she was strongly considering a race against Goreham but has yet to signal her current intentions. Gambrill is president of People Looking After Neighborhoods, which Goreham formerly headed.

Another possibility is retired Cobb sheriff’s deputy Carl Di Mare, who told Around Town last year he was fed up with Goreham’s vote against the IMAGE program and would run.

Yet another is Regional Republican Women’s Club Chairwoman Neva Lent, who Atlanta Tea Party Patriot leader Debbie Dooley said in November would be a candidate because of her disappointment over Goreham’s support for the Braves’ move here.

Don’t be surprised to see other names surface as well.

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MORE POLITICS: State Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) will host a fundraiser from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday at Gallery 4463 in Acworth. Ehrhart is the longest-serving Republican in the state Legislature. ...

Marietta City Schools will host a swearing-in ceremony and reception at 5 p.m. Jan. 14 for the school board’s two new members (Jason Waters and Jeriene Grimes) and the five incumbents. The event is open to the public and will take place at MCS offices at 250 Howard St.

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IF the Development Authority of Cobb County made a resolution to do the public’s business in public during 2014, it didn’t take long for that resolution to get broken.

The Authority violated the state’s sunshine law at its meeting Friday when it went into private session to discuss an “intergovernmental communications policy” dealing with how and whether it should notify the Cobb School District about the tax incentives it hands out, such as its agreement to give developer John Williams 10 years of tax abatements for his $103 million “Riverwalk” project in the Cumberland/Galleria area. The money-strapped school system would lose millions in revenue in the short run if the abatements stand.

The Georgia Public Records/Public Meetings Act allows — but does not require — public bodies to go into private session to discuss pending litigation, personnel or real estate matters. The reason given for Friday’s closed-door discussion — at least as it was stated to waiting reporters and others in attendance — did not appear to fall into any of those categories, according to Georgia Press Association attorney David Hudson of Augusta.

As it transpired, the DACC voted in public session after the private session to offer a compromise arrangement to the Board of Education in hopes the school board would drop its challenge to the bond validation for the DACC bonds that would underwrite Williams’ project.

For a full account of what transpired at Friday’s meeting, see Jon Gillooly’s story on the front page of today’s MDJ.

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WILLIAMS’ consultant on the Riverwalk project, Cumberland Community Improvement District Chairman Tad Leithead, was among those in attendance at the DACC meeting, which took place at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce headquarters.

As the meeting was ending Gillooly spotted Leithead on a sofa in a nearby lobby. Leithead spotted Gillooly too — then sprang to his feet and bounded up the stairs to the Chamber’s second floor offices.

“Tad, don’t you want to talk about what happened?” Gillooly called after him from the foot of the stairwell.

“Hell, no!” Leithead shouted back down. “The only reason I went down there was because I thought you had left!”

So much for transparency.

And Happy New Year!
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