Last week, the Cobb Board of Commissioners had its first non-emergency meeting in over a month. The county’s declaration of emergency related to the coronavirus had expired. But things did not return to normal.
The building in which the meetings are held remained closed, and so the agenda to the meeting read, “Public comment will be part of the Board of Commissioner’s virtual meeting on Tuesday, April 28th at 1:30 p.m. Participation will be by phone only.”
So AT, watching the meeting at home, was surprised to see four people address the board from a dais only a couple feet away. They each told the board that demand for the services offered by county nonprofits had surged in the wake of mass unemployment that itself followed government-imposed shelter-in-place orders. They added to the chorus of people, most of them pastors, who had called in that morning urging the board to approve a proposal to make $1 million available to nonprofits for the purchase of food for the needy.
AT wasn’t alone in finding it curious that some were allowed into the building to speak that afternoon.
“I could understand how Ike Reighard was allowed in the building because he did the prayer, but I said, how did the three additional speakers get in?” Keli Gambrill, the commissioner representing west Cobb, told AT.
Gambrill went looking for an answer. She asked county attorney Bill Rowling, but he didn’t know how they got in. She eventually got her answer from County Manager Jackie McMorris.
“They were invited by (board Chairman Mike Boyce) to speak, and they were told to give them access to the facility,” Gambrill said.
Boyce confirmed this in an interview Tuesday.
“I wanted to make sure the board saw all sides of the discussion,” he said. “We still weren’t sure about the technology working. I was concerned that if we couldn’t have two-way communication with the technology that it would only be one person that the board would have seen, and that would have been Shari Martin.”
Martin, the head of the nonprofit Cobb Community Foundation, gave a presentation before the board at their agenda prep session April 27. She was allowed in the building and spoke from the dais.
The decision to let people into the building did not sit well with Gambrill, however.
“I’m sorry, that was a setup by the chairman,” she said. “That’s more reason why to sit there and go, ‘Is the funding truly needed, or is the chairman trying to use taxpayer dollars to fulfill campaign promises?’”
Boyce, who is up for reelection this year, said he would have been accused of malfeasance had his worries about the technology come to pass.
“We are still trying to find a way to meet the intent and spirit of open and transparent government,” he said, “and if we only had one person address this issue, because the technology didn’t work, we would have been accused of rigging it so nobody else could speak on the issue.”
In related news, Boyce said the proposal to help nonprofits would be put on the agenda of the board’s May 12 meeting.
CITYHOOD DEBATE: Speaking of politicians, one of the funnier songs in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," the 1980s musical comedy starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds, is performed by Charles Durning, who plays the role of the scheming governor.
In his song "The Sidestep,” Durning shares platitudes in front of the crowd, only to reveal what he really thinks behind the scenes with this jingle:
"Ohhhh I love to dance a little side step,
“Now they see me now they don't I've come and gone
“And ohhhh I love to sweep around the wide step
“Cut a little swath and lead the people on."
Politicians have been leading the people on since the dawn of man, obfuscating and waffling their way into office.
So it was gratifying to hear Kevin Nicholas, candidate for the seat held by retiring Commissioner Bob Ott, actually take a position on the city of East Cobb debate rather than hem and haw with the “I need more information” dodge so popular among candidates.
Nicholas announced his position during the Cobb GOP’s online meeting Saturday, saying he was not in support of east Cobb cityhood.
“I do not support additional layers of government that have the potential for higher taxes, and quite frankly, I think our services we’re getting currently from our Cobb PD and fire department are the best in the nation,” he said. “I think I might be one of the only people who’s running for the commission who does not support cityhood, and I think that’s probably a good decision.”
Ott has declined to take a position on the matter (at least publicly), saying instead the District 2 residents should decide. And indeed they should.
Residents should also know who it is they’re putting in office and where that person stands on the issues of the day before granting him or her governing powers.
Nicholas, vice president at Ingenious Med, a hospital software company headquartered in the Cobb Galleria, also said he would not support construction of rail lines to Cobb County, which he said would cost $300 million per mile.
“I think we need to first invest in Cobb County and our infrastructure and our roads,” he said, adding that the county’s voter-approved special 1% sales tax, or SPLOST, may need a second look. “We can’t really just continue to pay for our road maintenance out of SPLOST.”
If approved in November, the SPLOST would take effect in 2022, and could bring in $810 million over the next six years.
About a quarter of the revenue the tax would bring in would be dedicated to repaving county roads.
Other items of interest to Nicholas were properly paying public safety staff, sticking to the county’s land use plan with new developments and keeping Cobb’s “high-density development in check.”
DRIVEN BY FEAR? During his keynote address at the Cobb GOP meeting, U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, seemed to throw his support behind the use of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as treatment for the new coronavirus. Loudermilk said the support for or opposition to the drug has fallen largely along party lines.
"I think it shows the difference in one aspect between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans — we're willing to take the risk for the better good," he said. "We're willing to go out front, and a lot of our colleagues on the other side ... they don't want to do anything that, first of all, isn't 100% safe, isn't 100% secure. They're driven by fear and, quite frankly, a lust for power."
He said the country is "very close" to having some treatments, and some are already going to trials. If you've got a way to treat the disease, Loudermilk said, that will combat the fear surrounding the virus.
"And as long as we have the capacity to treat it, then it becomes like a really bad case of the flu, (from what) a lot in the medical community are telling us," he said.
He also praised Gov. Brian Kemp for his efforts to reopen the state’s economy, and said the same day he’d suggested it to the governor, Kemp told him he’d already been planning to do so.
CELEBRATION: Friends of Chris Waldman gave her a birthday surprise at her Acworth home last week with a car parade and a cake in the driveway, observing social distancing guidelines. Around Town was instructed to leave Ms. Waldman's age out, but we wish her a happy birthday all the same.