Never have I seen a better example of what Mencken was talking about than on the pages of the Marietta Daily Journal this past week. First was MDJ news editor Leo Hohmann’s account of John Chambers, a 65-year-old Vietnam veteran and native of Marietta, who has been homeless since losing his house to foreclosure in January 2013. Chambers has lived for the past year in his minivan along with his dog, Scout, in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart on Cobb Parkway.
Hohmann was alerted to Chambers’ plight by an attorney and found that the man has endured bureaucratic red tape and downright indifference by government agencies and corporations alike in trying to resolve his issues. That is what happens to the afflicted. They don’t have the wherewithal to fight back. As a result, they get pushed around. And that is where comforting the afflicted comes in.
As a result of Hohmann’s articles, the response to Chambers’s plight has been overwhelming. The former architectural draftsman, who, in addition to his service in Vietnam worked later in Iraq as a private contractor, said “at least 100 people” have visited him at his minivan, offering to help him with his living arrangements, employment opportunities as well as some pro bono legal muscle to get his home back. That’s good stuff.
Now to the part about afflicting the comfortable. The Development Authority of Cobb County has been touting Riverwalk, a proposed development by mega-developer John Williams that would include 236 rental condos, 14 three-story townhome apartments and a 10-story office tower, despite the fact the project did not meet the county’s baseline requirement of creating 25 jobs and a $500,000 impact to the tax digest.
Riverwalk may have been the greatest idea since disposable diapers, but it has been a public relations disaster on par with 2012’s ill-fated TSPLOST referendum. (By the way, some of the same players were involved in both efforts. Go figure.)
Things were made worse by Williams’ prepubescent behavior. Atop the front page of Sunday’s MDJ there appeared a photograph of John Chambers and his dog, Scout, sitting in his minivan braving the elements. At the bottom of the page with another story was a picture of Williams at a meeting of the Cobb County school board, using a Manila folder to try and shield his face from an MDJ photographer. Nice.
The school board had objected to the Riverwalk proposal because the 10-year property tax abatements promised to Williams would cost the cash-strapped school system an estimated $4.3 million in revenues.
A last-ditch compromise of $139,299 in property taxes to the system during the three-year construction period for Riverwalk failed to sway the board to drop its objections, despite a private gathering of such stalwarts as state Attorney General Sam Olens, Cobb Chairman Tim Lee, former Gov. Roy Barnes and Cobb Chamber officials who tried to convince them otherwise.
As of this writing, I am wondering why Georgia’s attorney general saw fit to attend a private meeting on a matter concerning Cobb County. I thought attorneys general were into open meetings and sunshine. I also wonder why Olens wasn’t back at the office sifting through the ashes of the recent high-profile trial of state Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville), which his staff blew badly.
Now Riverwalk is no more. Just an hour and a half before a court hearing was scheduled to take place Thursday to validate bonds to finance the deal, Williams withdrew his application and issued a whiny press release, blaming everybody but itself for the sinking of this Titanic.
Of course, the assorted heavy hitters are now predicting that withdrawing the application will negatively impact future development in the county.
Poppycock. If this deal had gone through, every potential developer looking to do business in Cobb would have had his hand out for similar tax abatements.
Riverwalk was handled abysmally and deserved its fate. Cobb County is still a good place to do business. Just do it the proper way.
It has been an interesting week in Cobb County. The afflicted have been comforted and the comfortable have been afflicted. Thanks in large part to the Marietta Daily Journal, the little guys won big for a change and the big guys found out they can’t get their way simply because they are, well, big guys. That is the way it is supposed to work. That is the way H.L. Mencken would have wanted it. Me, too.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139; online at dickyarbrough.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb.