Four candidates have now announced they’d like to unseat Cobb school board member David Banks in this year’s election.
Banks, a Republican first elected in 2008, would like to be elected to a fourth term on the board.
The latest is Dr. Julia Hurtado, an east Cobb resident, who works as a physical therapist with the nonprofit Shepherd Center in Atlanta, treating adolescent athletes and others with mild to moderate traumatic brain injury. Hurtado, who plans to run as a Democrat, called Cobb schools “the very best of our community” and said she’s running for Banks’ seat because she wants to be as involved in the system as she can be. While she said she’s largely happy with how Banks has served, especially regarding his emphasis on the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, she also said it’s time for a change.
“Where my daughter goes to school, it’s very culturally and economically diverse, and I think that the way that our school system is set up, I think there’s great opportunity for most students to be very successful. But there are some populations, like kids with special needs or kids who maybe speak a different language at home, where our system isn’t set up as well for them to achieve as much as everybody else,” Hurtado said.
She also pointed out that Banks has been on the school board for the longest of any sitting board member.
“I like the idea of having some new, fresh voices involved to help better represent our changing community.”
Other candidates to have announced for Banks’ Post 5 seat intend to run as Republicans. They include IT project manager Matt Harper; Robert Madayag, an east Cobb resident and attorney with Atlanta firm Lee & Hayes and Shelley O’Malley, a Delta Air Lines pilot and U.S. Navy veteran.
Where does Hurtado stand on some of the issues of the day?
She’s sided with Democrat board member Charisse Davis on the call for a study on the district’s senior school tax exemption, saying she was disappointed to see Davis’ recommendation fail last year for lack of support on the board.
Homeowners ages 62 and older in Cobb County do not have to pay school tax under the exemption. It’s estimated the school district missed out on $122 million in revenue last year because of the exemption.
“One of our district’s goals is to make decisions based on data,” Hurtado said. “Scientific data informs my clinical decision-making so I can get my patients what they need, and I wouldn’t be effective in treating them if I didn’t understand what was bothering them. It concerns me that our current board can’t have a conversation about issues affecting our community.”
What of her thoughts on the board’s decision last year to ban board member comments at the end of each board meeting? She believes that ban, spearheaded by board member David Chastain, amounted to “silencing voices in the name of politics.”
“Board member comments should be reinstated,” she said. “School board members are elected to represent the families and school employees in their districts; when we silence them, we take away the voices of the people of Cobb County. Our citizens deserve to know what the board is doing, and, more importantly, why they are doing it.”
Another topic under debate is whether the school district needs a chief equity officer, a position the board’s sitting Democrats have supported and say would ensure equality of resources and fairness across all demographics in the district.
Hurtado said she was undecided about that position.
“Cobb has historically been a place where some students are more likely to succeed than others, and not solely because of how they perform on tests. This is just one reason why we need a fresh set of eyes on the board,” she said. “I’m not certain that we need an equity officer to provide equitable opportunities; if we can all get behind diversity and inclusion, we can more efficiently and effectively use the resources we already have.”
Hurtado said she isn’t sure whether running as Democrat will help or hinder her (or whether it will have any effect at all), but Cobb County residents deserve a choice.
“Regardless of whether I run unopposed (in the primaries) or whether there are other Democrats entering the field, the important thing is that we haven’t had Democrats running in this position previously. And I think it’s important for Cobb residents to know they have options. They don’t have to vote for one party or one idea — that there are lots of other ideas that we need to entertain,” she said. “The more different ideas we have contributing to the conversation, the more we can best examine and evaluate these different issues that are facing our community so that we can come up with the best compromises and best solutions.”
Qualifying for office is March 2 to 6 with the primary on May 19 and the general election on November 3.
RECOGNITION: Newly retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson received an unannounced award at the annual Cobb County Chamber of Commerce dinner gala. The east Cobb native retired at the end of 2019 after 45 years of public service, the only Georgian ever to serve in the state House of Representatives, state Senate, the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate.
Before running for office, he was in the real estate business in east Cobb.
To honor his accomplishments, the chamber named Isakson the first recipient of the Senator Johnny H. Isakson Leadership Award, formerly known as the Leadership Award. Previous honorees include Kessel Stelling of Synovus Bank in 1988 and Marietta Mayor Steve “Thunder” Tumlin in 2014.
The chamber also dedicated its 10th floor at its headquarters at 1100 Circle 75 Parkway to Isakson. Isakson stood on the dance floor in front of the stage to accept the honors. He was flanked by a retinue of businessmen and other supporters.
In his brief remarks, Isakson said he considers himself lucky to have lived in Cobb County and to have had the opportunity to have worked with many of its citizens.
“Let’s hold hands together, hope together and reach high. … There is room for us all to succeed, and let’s succeed together,” he said. “To me, life is about friends and the future. You are my friends and my future.” ... Meanwhile, Cobb Galleria Centre honored Isakson with a game ball presentation at the Georgia Tech-Morehouse basketball game. Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority member and former Yellow Jacket football standout Johnny Gresham, a longtime east Cobb resident, made the presentation to Isakson. Among his many accomplishments, Isakson was instrumental in the development of the Cobb Galleria Centre.
SPEAKER CIRCUIT: State Reps. Ginny Ehrhart, R-west Cobb, and Sharon Cooper, R-east Cobb, and Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, R-east Cobb, will give a legislative update at Saturday’s Cobb GOP breakfast. The event is from 8 to 10 a.m. at the Cobb GOP headquarters. ... Speakers at Monday’s Metro Marietta Kiwanis Club meeting are Angie Davis, clerk of State Court of Cobb County, and Penny Warren, wife of Sheriff Neil Warren. They will be speaking about 10 Women of Hope, a nonprofit that provides one-time financial support to stable single-parent families in Cobb County who are experiencing a critical need. The meeting, which begins at noon, takes place at the First United Methodist Church in Marietta.