Byrne spent a tumultuous decade (1992-02) as chairman, years that saw him preside over the commission with an iron fist and battle constantly with the media. Former U.S. Marine Byrne ran a tight ship as chairman in many respects, but was guilty of several grievous errors in judgment, two in particular. The first was his co-sponsorship of an anti-gay/pro-“family values” resolution that gave the county a national black eye and caused it to miss out on much of the bounty from the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. The other was his decision to green-light county construction of a supposedly state-of-the-art $26 million composting plant on County Services Parkway. But the plant did not work as advertised by its operator, the Bedminster Bioconversion Corp., instead spewing noxious fumes into nearby neighborhoods. After a pair of fires and its takeover by the county, it later was sold as a cost-saving measure.
Byrne resigned his chairmanship to run (unsuccessfully) for governor, then tried to run for commissioner in Polk County (where he owns a horse farm), making disparaging remarks about Cobb in the process. Polk’s Elections Board ruled he was not a legal resident of that county, after which he once again set his political ambitions on Cobb. He ran for commission chairman in 2012 against incumbent Tim Lee and very nearly beat him, although many of those voting for Byrne might have been fueled more by their animus against Lee and his support of the toxic T-SPLOST than by any particular fondness for Byrne.
Bob Weatherford, though little known to most of the rest of Cobb, has been an important, albeit low-key, player in the transformation of downtown Acworth during the past decade or so. Weatherford spent 12 years on the city council before resigning this year to run for chairman. Those 12 years coincided with Acworth’s transformation from an aging railroad town hugging the banks of Lake Acworth to a revitalized city with a downtown lined with “destination” dining options and other attractions.
The former Marine Reservist and police officer was selected by the Cobb Chamber as its Peace Officer of the Year in 1996. He graduated from Leadership Cobb in 2005 and is a trustee of the Chattahoochee Tech Foundation. He also has compiled an impressive record of volunteerism, including 16 years with Tackle Hunger and 12 years with Shop With a Hero. The former motorcycle policeman is also an avid member of the Patriot Guard, which is made up of volunteer motorcycle riders who escort the funeral processions of our fallen servicemen and women.
Weatherford, 65, and wife, Lori, have four children and one grandchild.
Byrne has tried to paint Weatherford as the candidate of the Cobb Chamber and as a “rubber stamp” for Chairman Lee. Weatherford makes no apologies for having been active in the chamber, nor should he; and is quick to counter the suggestion that his vote would be in Lee’s pocket.
“I’m not ashamed of being a member of the chamber. I don’t run from my friends. And tell me what I’ve ever rubber-stamped?” he asked during a recent meeting with the MDJ editorial board. “I will not be a ‘yes man.’ … I will not rubber-stamp anything. I will thoroughly investigate it and make my decision based on what’s best for west Cobb and for the county as a whole. That’s the way I work.”
At this point, it’s instructive to remember the example of JoAnn Birrell, a Lee protégé when she first ran for commission in 2010 who many suspected would be a dependable vote for Lee. To the surprise of many, she instead has been analytical and even-minded and very much her own person. Weatherford seems cut from the same cloth.
“I’m not the chamber’s guy,” he told the MDJ. “I’m nobody’s guy.”
We believe him. But we suspect that Bob Weatherford is “the right guy” for northwest Cobb and deserves your vote on July 22.