Cobb Planning Commissioner Andy Smith’s relationship with the man who appointed him to the county board, District 2 Commissioner Bob Ott, goes back quite a ways.
The pair are members of the same 1975 high school class in Westfield, New Jersey.
“He was well known. I moved into town the start of my 10th grade year. We had different groups of friends, but I certainly knew who Bob was.”
What was Ott like in high school?
“I think you would imagine him as just a well-intentioned, very responsible good student, you know, just what you would expect of Bob if you knew him now,” Smith said.
The two reconnected at a zoning meeting about a decade ago, neither having any idea the other had moved here. They also go to the same church: Mt. Bethel United Methodist.
When Ott made his surprise announcement this month that he was retiring from the Board of Commissioners, Smith said he would run to succeed him in the Republican primary.
“I don’t think I ever had a long-range ambition to be a politician, but I have for a long time had a keen interest in community service,” Smith said. “Bob Ott told me that the elected office that means the most to you is the one that’s closest to you. This is a great place to start and if you want to have an impact in your community, which I’ve always tried to do, this is the place.”
Born in Charlottesville, Virginia, Smith, 62, grew up mostly in New York and New Jersey. He holds a degree in architecture from Georgia Tech and started his own commercial interior construction company, Smith Todd Company, in 1993. He and his wife, Ann, have two children, graduates of Walton High School who now attend Kennesaw State University.
He also serves as vice chair of the Neighborhood Safety Commission and on the county’s Transit Advisory Board
AT ASKED HIM a few questions to see where he stands on the issues of the day. One question being debated is whether east Cobb should become a city.
Would he support cityhood?
“I honestly would need more information. We don’t have boundaries set,” he said.
Without the known boundaries, Smith said some of the key fiscal information is subject to change. Cityhood advocates have said they are putting that matter on hold this year while they seek to nail down their proposal, so for now, Smith is keeping an open mind.
“I think you’ve got to keep an open mind on everything. I just wish everybody would keep an open mind until all the facts are out,” he said.
Turning to transportation, would he support MARTA rail coming into Cobb County?
“I’ve never really studied that, but I do not believe I would support what I know of it right now. I just don’t know that we need it. I don’t know how it would be paid for. There’s a lot of factors that I think I would need to know more about,” he said.
On a related note, Chairman Mike Boyce has indicated he will ask residents to vote on a transportation sales tax after this fall’s SPLOST referendum passes. That could raise the county’s sales tax from 6 cents to 7 cents on the dollar. Does Smith think such a referendum is a good idea and if so, what would he like to see on the project list?
“I haven’t developed a list myself. There are some projects in the works or have been contemplated by Cobb County for some time and those projects, I think the Cumberland Transfer Station, expanding of the maintenance facility on the South Loop and a new transfer station in Marietta certainly are projects that I think we ought to be looking at.”
As for raising the sales tax to 7%, is that something he would be supportive of?
“I can’t think that I would or wouldn’t until I learn more about it,” he said.
How would such a referendum be received in east Cobb?
“I don’t think transit has been a very high priority for a huge amount of people in east Cobb. Just for the reasons I think that led with doing away with many of the bus routes through east Cobb. It’s not used by a tremendous amount of people in east Cobb.”
One of the most challenging issues east Cobb faces, he believes, is public safety.
“I think public safety is an issue that needs to be addressed, and I think that that may be certainly one of the most challenging issues.”
Smith said he looks forward to learning more details of the county’s proposed step-and-grade salary changes for public safety employees, which will be considered at the commission’s meeting later this month.
There’s already a Democrat in the race for District 2. New Orleans native Jerica Richardson, an Equifax employee who’s managed several political campaigns, has announced her candidacy. Also announced is Lloyd “Shane” Deyo of east Cobb, who is running as a Republican. Deyo, who was a combat paratrooper serving two tours in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2008 until he was wounded and received a Purple Heart, owns a laundromat near the commission office and is a software consultant for Graphic Packaging International in Sandy Springs
Qualifying is March 2-6 with the primary on May 19 and the general election on Nov. 3.
APPOINTMENTS: The Cobb County Planning Commission will soon have a new member.
Chairman Mike Boyce appointed Alice Summerour to the seat vacated by Skip Gunther, who announced his retirement at the end of the commission’s Jan. 7 meeting. Her appointment was approved by the Board of Commissioners at their Dec. 16 meeting.
“Why not?” Boyce said when asked why he chose her. “She’s very active in the community, she’s well known, I think she’ll do a great job.”
Summerour chairs the SPLOST Citizens’ Oversight Committee, a body made up of county residents who monitor Cobb’s voter-approved penny sales tax to ensure the projects it funds are completed on-budget and on-time.
As for Gunther, Boyce said as early as last summer that he would likely leave the commission in early 2020. After his final commission meeting, Gunther said it was an honor to serve on the body.
“I’m leaving on my own volition because I’m retiring from everything,” Gunther said. “But I will miss this.”
TRANSITIONS: The head of Cobb County’s Economic Development division, Michael Hughes, is jumping ship in a few weeks to become the executive director of Paulding County’s economic development department.
The move was described as “their win, our loss,” by members of the Development Authority of Cobb County at their regular meeting in Cumberland on Tuesday morning, which Hughes attended.
“We appreciate your service,” said Clark Hungerford, authority chairman. “You’re not going far. Dana, you might have to watch him.”
Hungerford was referring to Dana Johnson, executive vice president of economic development for the Cobb Chamber of Commerce and executive director of Select Cobb, the organization’s economic development strategy.
Johnson is regularly at authority meetings, as is his boss, chamber president and CEO Sharon Mason. On Tuesday they were happily showing off their new chamber suite, on the 10th floor of a Circle 75 Parkway building overlooking Cumberland, to the development authority.
It was the authority’s first meeting in the new space, which boasts a “staff bistro” for refreshments.
Hughes told the development authority Tuesday that his new job starts Feb. 10, and was thanked by members for his service. They joked he was too young to retire, to which Hughes said having two children in college meant his retirement is still some way off.
He said his responsibilities as Cobb’s head of economic development will be absorbed by the county’s planning division manager, Jason Gaines.
Hughes has been the head of economic development for the county since October 1998, having started his planning career in California after graduating from college there.
His leaving the county was one of several things discussed during the authority’s meeting Tuesday, as was a change of date for the February meeting.
Hungerford asked if fellow members minded moving the meeting from the scheduled date of Feb. 18, which, he said, is when his grandchildren would very much like him to holiday with them in North Carolina for the winter break.
“When a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old ask …,” Hungerford said. “Would it work for y’all to move it to the 25th? Is that a problem?”
Feb. 25 didn’t work for Donna Rowe, the authority’s vice chair, who suggested the 11th, and that was agreed upon by all.
“I appreciate y’all doing that, it will make my grandkids happy,” Hungerford said.