Mike Boyce editorial board

Presumptive Cobb Chairman Mike Boyce speaks in the MDJ’s offices Monday about the parks bond, the Braves and other issues with the editorial board. 

Retired Marine Col. Mike Boyce, set to become the chairman of the Cobb Board of Commissioners next year, said this week he is committed to finding a way for the county to spend $40 million on new park land because that was the amount approved by voters in a 2008 referendum.

However, he said needs to get more information about the options available before committing to a method of funding the land purchases.

In an hour-long interview with the MDJ’s editorial board on Monday, Boyce said he wants to “keep a low profile until Nov. 8,” when he is officially elected chairman. Boyce defeated incumbent Tim Lee in a runoff for the Republican nomination for the chairman’s seat in July, and without a Democratic, third-party or independent challenger, he is assured a win on Election Day.

Still, Boyce said he wants to wait for the general election before scheduling meetings with county staff, “so that when I go into a meeting with a staff person, I am the chairman-elect, and not the presumptive.”

Below are Boyce’s answer to a variety of questions the editorial board posed to the incoming chairman, though some have been edited for clarity.

Q: One of the big issues for your campaign was the parks bond. (we) know you haven’t sat down with staff yet, but what are your preliminary thoughts on how the county should handle it?

A: Again, I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. They’re still working through the budget, but I think you don’t have to go back to my campaign to find that I’m committed to find a way to pay for the bond. I think that in 2008, the people spoke, and I think that’s still a standing commitment that we should honor. And the challenge we’re going to have is finding a way to do that. But I want to let the chairman and the board work through that issue before I get involved in it.

Q: So you’d have to get more information before deciding what options are out there for you? What’s on the table, what’s not on the table?

A: Yeah, the bottom line is I have to see — I have to work with the budget they produce. But I think I bring the skillset to the table to be able to do that. And again, whatever decision I make regarding any topic, including the bond, has to be worked through the board.

Q: But eventually, you’d like to see that $40 million number realized?

A: Yeah, in some way.

Q: As you told (us) in the last month, a tax rate increase is off the table. That’s a non-starter.

A: Yeah, it has to be for me. It’d be political suicide. First off, I’ve said that I’m not going to raise taxes. And (second), we’re fiscally conservative. The way you keep government small is you starve them of money. I forget who said that, but there’s a lot of reality to that. But the other side is you’re still expected to provide them certain public services. So I think the only challenge might be the parks bond because there, the people have already indicated that they want the bond. Now, how are we going to pay for that? There’s a lot of options on the table. Again, how we do that, that’s going to be tough. But if I articulate the argument that they’re the ones that want the bond, they voted for it, we’re just delayed in how we do it. That’s really not my decision, I’m just executing it. But I have to communicate it in a way that they understand, on both sides, why we’re doing what we’re doing. So, $40 million is not a small amount of money. We’re not going to just pull that out of a hat. We’re going to have to find ways to do that, but again, I can’t make any decisions on that until I see how the board votes on the budget.

...

Q: What’s your interaction with the district commissioners?

A: I’ve had coffee with them, I’ve had breakfast with them. I’ve texted, emailed. It’s been informal, but again, everything I pretty much need to know, I read in the paper.

Q: Have you met with all the district commissioners?

A: In person, all except for (Commissioner) Bob Weatherford. I just don’t ride motorcycles, and I don’t believe in going to Montana. But no, he and I have texted, and likewise with most of the mayors. I’m meeting with (Smyrna Mayor) Max Bacon on Friday, but these meetings, again, like I said before, it’s just for them to get to know me. Look, I’m an unknown. I came up out of nowhere, and they knew my name and that’s just about it. The reality is I think a lot of people thought this was a shot in the dark. … It’s not like we tried to hide the nature of our campaign. I just think people, and I mean this generally, people didn’t believe that the whole issue was that the people felt that they should have been brought into the process, something that simple. And that after two years, they’d have gotten over it. Well, I didn’t feel that way, and apparently most of them didn’t either.

Q: And the peace accords with the Atlanta Braves went well?

A: That was a good meeting.

Q: So you’re all set with them?

A: Yeah, that was a good meeting. I got a sense of their professionalism, and I also got a sense that this is a big enchilada. We have to find a way, all of us, to make this a successful enterprise. And that’s going to require a lot of work on our part because we’re now part of a business enterprise, so we have responsibilities in that regard. And we have to find a way to do our part to make that business enterprise successful. They are unique because they are so big and because of the issues, primarily traffic surrounding them, that are going to be there from day one. So I’m aware of that, they’re aware of that. Apparently, everyone is doing their best to come up with a plan, but as I told them in my meeting, I’ve heard a lot of plans in my lifetime, they usually last about a minute once you execute them. So you have to have the flexibility to adjust (when) something you hadn’t thought about occurs, but you still have to deal with it. But I think we’re all on board with it. I think they were very, very reassured that I’m here to work with them, in every way, shape or form … and I’ve committed to that.

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Q: (Another) issue … is the bridge over I-285 near the stadium (and) how it’s being paid for. Are there any changes that you would like to see made to how that bridge is being funded? Or do you agree with the way the county has handled it so far?

A: Let me simply say that the bridge was in the (Memorandum of Understanding) (between the county and the Braves). The board signed, approved the M.O.U., they have to find a way to build it. That’s the agreement. Somebody had asked me if I had planned to go and try to find a way to change the M.O.U. The answer’s no. That is a contract. And some things are black and white to me. It’s a contract. We have to do it. So I’ll let the board figure out how they’re going to do that.

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Q: Recently, the board was presented with this study outlining changes that should be made to staffers’ salaries. Are you familiar with what was presented in the report and what do you make of their findings?

A: I went to the board and spoke to them sometime in the last year about — it was during the budget last year — and they were mentioning this study, but they hadn’t put (in) something called a placeholder. And I went the board and I said, ‘Look, even if you don’t know the exact impact of this study, show your employees that you’re serious about doing something about it and put a placeholder in the budget to reflect that you think this is going to be an estimate of what you think this budget’s going to cost. And that sends a signal to all your employees that you are serious about this effort.’ And ultimately, they did that. So I think that’s where they are right now. I think it’s a priority to the chairman, and I think that’s terrific because the county employees certainly have worked hard for it. And I would like to — I just want to let him work this out with the board as to how they’re going to implement that study because, again, I’m aware of the issue, I’ve read some of it, but I haven’t read all of it. I don’t know all the impact of it because I haven’t talked to the HR director or the other people who are impacted by it. But it’s something that I think everyone recognizes should be done, and I think the board will find some way of at least getting started on that.

Q: You were saying earlier that you didn’t think the whole zoning — the way of doing it with the signs right by the property was enough.

A: No, because people are busy. The reality is that even though I went to 8,000 doors, most of them weren’t home, but a lot of them called me back. People just work hard. My sense was a lot of them, if not most of them were low-income families. They get home, they have kids, they have soccer and after-school activities that they want to be a part of, and now you’re asking them to take another part of their very busy life to focus on what’s going on in their county. Now, if you’re doing everything right, it’s like other institution — if it’s clicking on all cylinders, then you don’t have an interest because they’re taking care of you. I remember one morning, watching ‘The Georgia Gang,’ the guy — who’s that, Dick Williams, is that who runs that show? — he was making a comment, ‘Well, Mike Boyce has said the county government has got great people, they’re doing great things, you know, the economy’s growing there. What’s his problem?’ Well, Dick, obviously you missed the point because when I went knocking on doors, I wasn’t complaining about how our government was being run, I was complaining about something else. And I was trying to convince people to agree with me and vote for me. But I realized that I had to go get them. If I hadn’t done that, I probably wouldn’t have won. I’ll be realistic. What we did was what it took to win. And in the course of doing that, I just learned that we have to find a better way of getting people to vote. Something as simple as putting absentee ballot applications in the water bill or something. Just reach out to them.

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