The spark? The BRT. The county is giving serious consideration to spending $492 million to build a Bus Rapid Transit line down the Cobb Parkway right of way.
All of the candidate forums prior to Tuesday’s had been tightly structured, allowing next to no interaction between the candidates, but Tuesday’s included a portion where candidates could address each other directly.
“I am vehemently opposed to the BRT!” Byrne said. “And if they include it in (this fall’s) SPLOST referendum, it will kill the SPLOST. And we’ve got to have the SPLOST!”
Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee is a fan of the BRT, and many perceive it as having the support of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce as well. Byrne has repeatedly pointed out that numerous Chamber insiders are openly supporting fellow District 1 candidate Weatherford. It’s safe to say at this point there’s little love lost between the two candidates, and Weatherford on Tuesday used Byrne’s BRT comments as a springboard to do what he and the other three Republican candidates running for the District 1 seat have thus far mostly shied away from during the campaign — that is, dredge up Byrne’s record as 1990s chairman. Weatherford noted that Byrne had proposed building a commuter rail line from the Town Center to Cumberland Mall area in the late 1990s and funding it via SPLOST dollars. (Voters rejected the proposal in a 1998 referendum.)
“Bill Byrne was for the BRT before he was against it,” Weatherford quipped. “He heard they had one at Disneyworld, so he decided he wanted one here.”
Answered Byrne: “I learned in 1998 that the voters didn’t want it. If people now haven’t learned that people don’t want (a BRT) they’re going to learn it the hard way.”
Weatherford is playing the BRT more close to the vest.
“I don’t know what the answer is … I’m leaning against it,” but added he wants to wait until studies under way are complete.
Shot back Byrne: “We spent $4.1 million in taxes to study it already. How many more studies do we need? The question is what will the size be of the subsidy that’s needed to operate the BRT? Cobb taxpayers are already paying 60 percent of the cost of subsidizing CCT.”
CCT, the county’s bus line, has struggled since its inception nearly 25 years ago.
THE BRT found no support from the other four District 1 candidates at the forum, either. The event was the first to include Democrat Derrick Crump, who’ll face the winner of the May 20 GOP Primary in November.
“The BRT is not the answer,” said Crump, an IT engineer.
Scott Tucker suggested the county government put its workers on flex time and have them telecommute to lessen congestion.
Glenn Melson said the county doesn’t need a candidate “who would rubber-stamp the BRT.”
Angela Barner said she is “totally against it.”
DROPPING BY: Republican U.S. Senate candidate David Perdue will stop on Marietta Square at noon Monday as part of his statewide bus tour. ... Gubernatorial candidate David Pennington of Dalton will speak at Monday’s Madison Forum luncheon at the Rib Ranch.
HAROLD MOTE, who died earlier this week, was the starting quarterback for Marietta High School’s 1967 State Championship football team, the only Blue Devils team to ever capture that honor.
SICK BAY: State Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-east Cobb) is recovering from knee surgery. … Retired Marietta postal carrier Phillip Maloney has ended treatments for lung cancer and entered hospice. Maloney is a member of one of the city’s best-known families and ran unsuccessfully for city council in the 1990s.
FORMER Cobb and Fulton School Superintendent James Wilson is working to see two retired Cobb school administrators elected to the Cobb school board.
One, Susan Thayer, is a consultant for his company, Education Planners, a firm that advertises such services as SPLOST preparation and stakeholder communications. She is a former director in the Cobb HR Department and former Pebblebrook High principal. The other, Bill Scott, served as principal of Rocky Mount, Birney and Chalker elementary schools.
Thayer is challenging incumbent Tim Stultz in the May 20 primary, and Scott is running for retiring board member and present board Chairwoman Kathleen Angelucci’s seat. Angelucci and Stultz often vote as a bloc with members Randy Scamihorn and Brad Wheeler in opposition to the agenda of now-departed Superintendent Michael Hinojosa. And they also provided the core votes behind the board’s recent unanimous decision to hire Chris Ragsdale for one year as interim superintendent. They deliberately chose to leave the job of hiring the next superintendent to the board that will be elected this spring and fall in the primaries and general election.
The hiring of Ragsdale, who had been deputy super of operations, has not set well with those who feel the job should have gone to someone with a classroom background.
Wilson’s name was one of those most frequently mentioned as a candidate for the job of interim superintendent, a job typically viewed as a way station on the way to getting the job on a permanent basis.
Wilson sent out a blast email on May 1 to a “Who’s Who” of former Cobb school brass, inviting them to a reception for Thayer and Scott at the Marietta Country Club on Thursday afternoon.
“As we have dedicated our careers, time and energy in support of K-12 education in Cobb County, we now find ourselves in desperate need for improvements on the school board,” Wilson wrote. “I could question why, but choose only to strongly support and commend both Susan and Bill for taking on this challenge.”
Among the invitees were former Cobb school board Chairwoman Kathie Johnstone of east Cobb, who was ousted from office after her alliance with then-Superintendent Joe Redden behind his abortive $100 million take-home laptop program; Redden’s executive assistant Alexis Kirijan; Cobb Chamber of Commerce Chairman David Connell, whom Thayer has said encouraged her to challenge Stultz; former school board members Johnny Johnson, John Crooks, John Abraham and Gordon O’Neill; former Cobb central office administrators Diane Bradford, Judith Jones and Alice Stouder; Cobb Travel and Tourism CEO Holly Bass; Tony Arasi with the Georgia School Boards Association; former Superintendent Fred Sanderson assistants Allison Toller and Angela Carder; former Pebblebrook High School Principal Randy Bynum; and former interim Superintendent Jill Kalina, who now works for Wilson’s firm.
Wilson’s firm boasts a powerhouse lineup of education experts and has been hired by the Cobb School District from time to time. The district paid Wilson $126,990 to serve four months as interim Chief HR Officer, Director of Support Services and Compensation Manager in 2011-12. And his firm was paid $77,000 to help put together the special purpose local option sales tax list of projects for the SPLOST IV program, according to district spokesman Jay Dillon.