A website called “The Muckraker Project,” which bills itself as providing “expert commentary and investigative reports to expose corporate cronyism in governments” posted an article on the topic Thursday.
The headline of the piece announces: “Revealed: Cobb County Commission Chairman Tim Lee’s Kitchen Cabinet.”
Authored by Kevin Schmidt and Justin Hayes, the article hones in on an email exchange between Lee, Mary Lou Stephens, communications director for the Town Center Area Community Improvement District, and others.
Stephens, wife of Dan Stephens, chairman of the Cobb & Douglas Public Health Board, sent the initial March 24 email to Michael Paris, CEO of the Council for Quality Growth; Futren Corporation owner Jim Rhoden, who manages The Georgian Club; Ben Mathis, chairman of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce; and Bob Prillaman, retired senior vice president of Caraustar Industries.
Lee is copied on her email.
Under the subject line, “April kitchen cabinet,” Mary Lou Stephens writes: “The chairman would like April 30. Who’s available?”
Seven minutes later, Lee writes her back, saying, “Please watch what address you use for me. This is the third one today that should have gone to the other . . . .”
Lee ends his message to Stephens with a smiley face.
Commenting on the email, The Muckraker Project’s article observes: “The reminder shows that Chairman Lee prefers to keep the existence and calendar of the ‘kitchen cabinet’ confidential. Lee did not respond to a request for comment.”
Around Town rang up Lee to inquire about his cabinet.
Lee said about a year ago, he began monthly meetings with Rhoden, Mathis, Prillaman and Stephens, usually held at the Georgian Club.
“I’ve always wanted to have someone I could kick something around, and we were talking one day, ‘Why don’t we get together? Why don’t we have dinner,’ and the next thing we know, there we are.”
Lee said he was unaware of the Muckraker piece, the website or who the authors were.
He also denied trying to keep anything secret.
“First of all, I don’t know who this guy is, so you’re not going to get a comment from me on something like that unless I know who you are, so I don’t know what he’s talking about there,” Lee said. “Second of all, it’s nothing to keep confidential. I get so many emails, things that aren’t directly related to the county from people I tell them not to use the county address. That’s a personal issue. It’s a personal meeting, and it’s not county business per se, directly related to county business, so I always tell people when I try not to use my county emails because (Lee’s assistant, Millie Rogers) has got to deal with that because Millie gets a copy of every email I get, and she writes a lot of email, and I more or less tell other people if it’s not county related, use my other email. That way it doesn’t show up in the system.”
So what does Lee’s kitchen cabinet talk about?
“Sometimes Prillaman will tell us a story from old times,” Lee said. “It’s just anything that’s happening in the news and not much different from what you and I talk about. They give me their opinions, I give them my opinions, we talk about things going on just generally overall with the government. The last one was probably talking about the upcoming vote for the Braves and whether or not we should have a SPLOST or not or things like that.”
Lee said he has regular meetings with other community members, such as Cobb GOP Chairman Joe Dendy and Georgia Tea Party Chairman J.D. Van Brink; with Deane Bonner, president of the Cobb NAACP, and with the East Cobb Civic Association leaders.
As for the Muckraker piece, Lee said he didn’t know why the authors would write about his private meetings.
“I don’t know why he’s trying to do it other than I know there’s a group of people out there that for some reason don’t like success and don’t like me, and they’ve decided to take it upon themselves to do what they can and make innuendoes that aren’t true or turn the situation around to make it sound like something it’s not, and that’s part of political life, and it’s unfortunate that we drag the wrong people into it sometimes,” Lee said. “I don’t know this guy, I don’t know what he represents or what he’s up to, but he’s obviously wrong on this, and he’s trying to create something that doesn’t exist.”
Around Town contacted the Muckraker authors, but didn’t hear back from them by press time.
As expected, retiring 11th District U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey of Marietta threw his support behind fellow Congressman Jack Kingston this week in the heated primary runoff race against business exec David Perdue to succeed Saxby Chambliss in the U.S. Senate. The question is how much of a difference Gingrey’s endorsement might make in the outcome July 22.
Gingrey never had a serious challenge during his 12 years on Capitol Hill and could easily have won re-election this year in what is one of Georgia’s most Republican-heavy districts, but chose instead to seek the seat of the retiring Chambliss. Gingrey’s campaign never got untracked, however, and he was able to win only four of Georgia’s 157 counties — all of them in far northwest Georgia, and none of them named “Cobb.” A politician’s inability to win his home state, home precinct or in this case, home county, is usually synonymous with overall defeat at the polls.
Gingrey (20.17 percent) came in not second, but third in Cobb, behind Perdue (30.12 percent) and former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel (29.32 percent). Kingston finished a surprisingly lackluster fourth in Cobb with just 12.62 percent.
Statewide, it was a different story with Kingston (25.80) in second, breathing hard down the neck of first-place finisher Perdue (30.64). Gingrey was a distant fourth statewide with 10.03 percent.
Still, in a very-low turnout runoff following a low-turnout primary, every vote will count. Gingrey racked up 10,187 of them in Cobb on May 20, and if he can help get any sizeable percentage of them — and the votes of any of those who supported fellow conservatives Handel and U.S. Rep. Paul Broun of Athens that day — that might go far toward pushing Kingston over the top.
Eleventh District congressional hopeful Bob Barr will host a veterans-related town hall meeting from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday at American Legion Post 29 at 921 Gresham Ave., in Marietta. Barr will meet Barry Loudermilk of Cartersville in the July 22 GOP primary runoff. Retired Army Col. Larry Mrozinski, who ran for the seat as well but didn’t make the runoff, will be a “special guest presenter” at the meeting, which will focus on the Veterans Administration scandal, Barr said. Don’t be surprised to if the controversial decision by President Barack Obama to swap five high-ranking Taliban leaders at Guantanamo for alleged Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl doesn’t come up as well. The exchange has left many in the veterans’ community outraged.