When someone in the crowd at Wheeler High School asked Bill Green why the fifth member of his team had resigned, he demurred.
There were, Green said, “ideological differences” between that member and the rest of the group, which had come together to fact-check a paid study that found a city of East Cobb to be financially feasible.
There was also the “issue” of the fifth member’s relationship with a “county party official,” he said, but he declined to elaborate. “It’s hard for me to put words in his mouth. I would love it if he could answer that question.”
This week, he did.
“I can say without hesitation that Mr. Green’s assertion is false,” Shailesh Bettadapur, the fifth member, said in an email. “Correcting the record matters, not so much for the falsehood itself, but because, in my view, it calls into question the veracity of the rest of the analysis and report.”
Green’s group, dubbed the Independent Finance Group, completed their study in September, in review of the earlier feasibility study on east Cobb cityhood conducted by a team from Georgia State University as required by the state Legislature.
Group members Green, Bill Dennis, Russ Morrisett and Ken Pollock found that east Cobb residents could pay lower taxes, enjoy better policing and benefit from a $12 million annual surplus to boot if they were to form their own city.
Bettadapur is the husband of Jacquelyn Bettadapur, the chair of the Cobb Democratic Party. He is an east Cobb resident and vice president and treasurer at Mohawk Industries.
Although he joined Green’s group with the assumption that “you could not add a layer of government and administration and obtain the same or increased quality of services without also raising taxes and fees,” he is adamant he was open to being persuaded otherwise and that his departure had nothing to do with “ideology” or his marriage to a Democratic Party official.
“If (Green) had just said the other person didn’t agree, that would have been truthful,” Bettadapur told the MDJ. “But he would have had to explain in what way that person didn’t agree.”
During the town hall at which Green explained the reason for Bettadapur’s departure, he said that they disagreed over the report’s findings.
“It was a 4 to 1 majority, the one dissent was the one who resigned,” Green said. “He had ideological reasons for not wanting to participate in the majority opinion, he declined to write a dissenting opinion even though I begged him to do that.”
But Green did not explain over what they disagreed.
Bettadapur said he joined the group after attending east Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott’s town hall at the Catholic Church of St. Ann in March.
His interest was piqued by a presentation made at the end of the town hall by cityhood advocate David Birdwell.
“It didn’t make a lot of sense,” he said. “You can’t be adding stuff and not raise taxes.”
He emailed the Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb, of which Birdwell is a member, and told them he was a financial professional at a Fortune 400 company and could help them run the numbers to see whether they could, in fact, create a new city without raising its residents’ taxes.
“But I was very, very open. I said, ‘Look, I don’t have a view, so if you’re looking for people who are for this, I’m probably not your guy.’”
A few weeks later, Birdwell and fellow Committee member Rob Eble called him. After a pleasant conversation, they asked him to join what Green would later dub the “Independent Finance Group.”
The IFG initially met at the East Cobb Library but eventually moved to Green’s house, Bettadapur said. Ott dropped in on one of the meetings, as did Chip Patterson, another of the committee’s members.
Bettadapur said it was not long before he started to feel as though the group was not, in fact, independent, but assumed the “numbers would speak for themselves.”
Eventually, Green wrote a draft of the report and distributed it among the group’s members, Bettadapur said.
“In terms of substance, I had a real problem with the assumptions. The basis for which he was saying certain things,” Bettadapur said.
One such assumption, he said, concerned the county-city intergovernmental transfer.
Because cities often provide some of the services offered by the county, such as law enforcement, the cities get back some of the money their residents had paid in taxes so they aren’t funding something — the Cobb Police Department, for example — they don’t use.
Bettadapur said that Cobb’s six cities split between them about $5 million per year due to the intergovernmental transfer.
Green thinks a city of East Cobb could get far more from the county.
The feasibility study, which was conducted by Georgia State University, “had assumed something like two and a half million coming back,” Bettadapur said. “Bill was saying, ‘No, it should be more like $11 million.’
“I know enough about the law that (I know) precedence matters,” he continued. “If nobody else is getting that, it seems kind of unlikely that you’re going to get that.”
The group went through another three or four drafts, but Bettadapur couldn’t change anyone’s mind regarding what he thought were too-optimistic assumptions, he said. So he decided he no longer wanted to be a part of the IFG.
Bettadapur acknowledged that Green asked him to write a dissent, but said he thought it would be a waste of time.
He also acknowledged that he didn’t think the group’s other members were pro-cityhood, saying he would have quit earlier if he had.
Despite his departure from the group, he is sympathetic to cityhood advocates’ desire for local representation and the notion that it might lead to better services.
“What I’m not sympathetic to is that that’s going to cost less,” he said. “By any objective measure our taxes are low to begin with,” he continued. “The services aren’t — could they be better? Yeah, I guess so, but yeah, you’ve got to pay for that. And I don’t have any objection to paying for that. But you’ve got to be honest about it.”