Around Town: Rocky Road: SPLOST renewal a coin toss for Lee
by Joe Kirby, Otis A. Brumby III and Lee B. Garrett, - Around Town Columnists
March 01, 2014 04:00 AM | 4563 views | 0 0 comments | 80 80 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WILL VOTERS go for a re-authorization of the county’s 1 percent road SPLOST, as proposed Tuesday for November by County Commission Chairman Tim Lee?

That’s anybody’s guess. The one certainty is that the vote would be close — probably excruciatingly so. The current tax was approved in 2011 by a razor-thin 79-vote margin out of 43,000 cast. The prior reapproval of the SPLOST in 2005 was equally narrow, just a 117-vote margin out of 40,000 votes cast.

Can Lee round up two other votes on the commission to put the measure on the November ballot in the first place? And will Southwest Cobb Commissioner Lisa Cupid decide that such a vote is the perfect time for some political payback? She was the sole vote on the commission against Lee’s push to bring the Braves to Cobb, saying the move was rushed and that she was heavily pressured. She also voted Tuesday against creating the three new taxes needed to help pay for the $672 million stadium planned here for the Atlanta Braves.

And if Lee does manage to round up enough votes to put the measure to the public, don’t be surprised to see many of those who’ve loudly opposed the Braves’ move here also fight hard to block the SPLOST — especially since in many cases they are the same people who fought to defeat earlier SPLOSTs. Lee won’t be on the November ballot, so they might see a vote against this SPLOST as the perfect way to “send Tim a message.”

Yet by voting against the SPLOST, they also would be negating a reason stated by many of them for opposing the Braves move — that is, its impact on traffic. They would be voting against the SPLOST to protest the Braves move, while at the same time voting not to fund the very same traffic improvements they say are badly needed to alleviate traffic near the new stadium. That comes pretty close to the definition of the cliche about “cutting off one’s nose …”

But the anti-SPLOST forces will be more motivated than ever, not only by how close they have come to nixing recent county SPLOSTs but also by the memory of how they rallied Cobb voters to give an overwhelming “no” to the region-wide TSPLOST referendum in 2012 that was strongly supported by Lee.

The defeat of Lee’s current SPLOST proposal also would play havoc with his hopes of seeing the county build a $1 billion Bus Rapid Transit line down Cobb Parkway to the new stadium.

One last point to remember: a general election is much harder to manipulate than a low-turnout special election, when referendum backers can usually round up enough people with a direct interest in a measure’s passage to actually see it pass.

November would be the last opportunity for the county to hold a referendum in conjunction with a general election, saving about $500,000. Lee’s goal is to see the road SPLOST reapproved before the current tax expires so that collections could continue without interruption.

We’re sure Lee will make the best case for the new SPLOST that he possibly can, but if Las Vegas odds makers were giving odds on this, they’d probably say it was 50-50 at best.

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AS NOTED, Cupid was the only commissioner who voted Tuesday against creating the new taxes to help finance the Braves’ stadium, and she sent out a late-night email afterward explaining her vote.

“Many paint those who question the Braves move to Cobb or try to delay decisions with respect to the Braves as being opposed to the Braves being in Cobb. This is an unfair, blanket characterization,” wrote Cupid in her email, which she sent at 3:16 a.m. to her fellow commissioners, county attorney Deborah Dance, county department heads and the MDJ.

“I recognize that there are some out there, perhaps even some who spoke tonight, who are dead set against the Braves in Cobb. I am not one of them. The County inclusive of District 4 has much to gain. We also could have much to lose if we do not do this right, inclusive of being transparent, as we said we would as we move forward. …

“Please know that I also pride myself in the relationship I have built with Braves’ leadership as they are committed to helping bring jobs and other opportunities to Cobb inclusive of District 4. …”

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MADISON FORUM President Michael Opitz has jumped into the race for the District 3 seat representing Northeast Cobb on the commission now held by first-termer JoAnn Birrell. Also running is plumber Joseph Pond, who has clashed repeatedly with Birrell over the county’s backyard-chicken ordinance.

Opitz is a professional mediator and retired Lucent Technologies exec. His Madison Forum group, though it does not include the words “tea party” in its name, is known for its tea-party leanings. He ran as a “constitutional conservative” against U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta) in the 2012 GOP Primary and came in a very distant second.

Opitz says the county’s Public Safety Department is afflicted with “a severe morale problem” and wages are not commensurate with those of surrounding areas.

“If they’re going to risk their life while doing their job, why not risk it where the pay and benefits are better? That’s a no-brainer,” he mused.

Opitz is a former special agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

“So I have an understanding of law enforcement officers’ perspectives,” he said. “And when I’m concerned about my wife and her safety, I have to be concerned about everyone else’s public safety.”

Opitz and his wife, Becky, have three grown children.

Opitz says another of his goals is to bring high-tech manufacturing jobs to Cobb.

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REMINDER: Gov. Nathan Deal will speak at today’s Cobb GOP Breakfast from 8:15 to 10 a.m. at the party headquarters, 799 Roswell St. Admission is $10 for breakfast.

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POLITICS: Reginald Crossley of Atlanta will run in the Democratic Primary for the District 38 state Senate seat held by Horacena Tate. It includes the portion of Cobb westward from South Cobb Drive to the Fulton County line. Crossley is Fulton County Youth Commissioner. ...

Grant-writer and real estate broker Connie Taylor has announced she will challenge incumbent state Rep. David Wilkerson (D-south Cobb) in the Democratic Primary. Taylor came in fourth in a crowded six-person primary for the District 4 seat representing Southwest Cobb in 2012, the race in which Cupid unseated Commissioner Woody Thompson. ...

Erica Thomas of Austell, legislative aide to state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell), has announced her candidacy for the seat Morgan is leaving in order to run for state school superintendent. Thomas is executive director of Speak Out Loud, a nonprofit that caters to foster kids, and spent part of her own youth as a foster child. She has served as aide to Morgan (no relation) for five years and is VP of the Young Democrats of Cobb County. ... Yancey Brothers Construction retiree Elden Morris of Mableton has also announced for Morgan’s seat. Morris is a Vietnam-era Army veteran.

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OVERHEARD in the MDJ newsroom Wednesday, as the trial of rapper Da Brat started in Cobb Superior Court Judge Reuben Green’s courtroom for hitting a woman over the head with a bottle: “I can’t imagine why someone named ‘Da Brat’ would hit somebody with a bottle! What a surprise!”

But Da Brat was the one hit with Da Surprise when the jury awarded plaintiff Shayla Stevens a $6.4 million judgment.

Da Brat had already admitted to having hit former Atlanta Falcons cheerleader Stevens in a nightclub in 2007. Stevens contended the bottle assault caused facial disfigurement, neurological impairment and severe mental pain. And in an odd twist the trial had to be restarted after one of the jurors announced that he was not a U.S. citizen and was arrested.

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MONDAY’S “First Monday” Breakfast of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce will mark a first: the dress code will be “business casual” rather than coat-and-tie. The departure was announced by Chamber Chair Ben Mathis.

“You don’t have to wear a tie — but you do have to wear clothes,” he said.



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