Monday, May 10, 2021

Sam Hensley Jr.

If the last three candidates Democrats fielded against now-former Republican state Rep. Bert Reeves left politicos wondering how serious Dems were about winning, that question is unlikely to arise this time around.

Reeves, floor leader to Gov. Brian Kemp, triggered a June 15 special election when he unexpectedly resigned to take a cabinet position with Georgia Tech.

This week, Marietta attorney Sam Hensley Jr., who describes himself as a moderate Democrat, threw his hat in the race. A Renaissance man with a mile-long resume, Hensley comes from a family that had a hand in shaping the county’s infrastructure and arts scene.

Of counsel with the Marietta law firm Bentley, Bentley and Bentley, a firm founded by a family that zags rightward, there are connections there that transcend politics.

“Despite the fact they’re traditionally Republican, we have some diversification here at the firm and so we take all comers, and what that leads to is some very spirited political dialogues which I think is healthy. It’s a good thing, so yeah, they let me hang around. I appreciate that,” Hensley Jr. told Around Town on Friday.

The late patriarchs of both families, Sam Hensley Sr. and Fred “Bowtie” Bentley Sr., friends for half a century, both made their mark in the General Assembly.

Sam Hensley Sr.

Fred “Bowtie” Bentley Sr.

“My father rented his first engineering office here in Marietta from Fred Sr. That’s how they got to know each other,” Hensley Jr. said.

Hensley Jr. and attorney Randall Bentley attended North Cobb High School in the 1970s where they played on the football team before the former went to Duke and then law school at UGA.

His father, Hensley Sr., worked with Cobb County Chairman Ernest Barrett, recognized for his vision of installing the infrastructure that allowed Cobb to grow.

“They came up with the idea of doing basically a circle of water and sewer service within the county that would serve what they knew was going to be a lot of growth over the ensuing decades. And they were right, it facilitated a lot of that,” Hensley Jr. said.

At the age of eight or nine, he served as a page when his father was in the Georgia Senate. Later on, he was his father’s campaign manager when he won the seat vacated by the late A.L. Burruss in the Georgia House in the 1980s.

While his father was making his mark in government circles, his late mother Iris Antley Hensley founded the Cobb Marietta Ballet in 1959, now the Georgia Ballet, Cobb County’s only fully professional classical ballet and training company.

Iris Hensley, who passed away in 2003, was one of the early advocates of developing the arts scene in Cobb County.

Hensley Jr.’s grandfather, Shuler Antley, served as superintendent of the Marietta School District, principal of Marietta High School and first headmaster of The Walker School. And his brother Shuler Hensley is a Tony award-winning Broadway and film star who will begin rehearsals with Hugh Jackman this fall for the revival of “The Music Man” on Broadway.

Shuler Hensley

The Shuler Awards, a kind of Tony Awards for high school musical theater students, are presented every year by the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre and named after his brother.

A father of two, Hensley Jr., 60, and his wife, Ashleyanne, school director of the Georgia Ballet, live just outside Marietta city limits off Burnt Hickory Road. He has served as the legal counsel for the Cobb County delegation to the Georgia House, is assistant solicitor in the cities of Kennesaw and Acworth, and is the assistant county attorney for the Cobb County Business License Division and License Review Board. He is also a novelist, screenwriter, actor and film producer.

Reeves’ unexpected resignation presented the opportunity to run for public office, Hensley Jr. said.

In a district that has been trending left despite the shaky candidates the Democratic Party has fielded, Hensley is sure to give the Cobb GOP heartburn about keeping that seat red.

The three Democratic candidates Reeves faced took 36% of the vote in 2016, 42% in 2018, and 43.8% last November.

The race is complicated by there being no primary. There are already two Republicans in it: Devan Seabaugh, vice president of administration for Metro Atlanta Ambulance, and Kennesaw Councilman David Blinkhorn. Each reduces GOP chances of making it to the July 13 runoff as many Marietta Republicans in the district are expected to vote for Seabaugh and many Kennesaw Republicans could go for Blinkhorn.

Devan Seabaugh

David Blinkhorn

“Anytime you have a jungle election it’s a concern,” Cobb GOP Chair Salleigh Grubbs said, noting she is prohibited from backing a single Republican in the race until one advances to the runoff. “I think clearly there’s precedent set that it is damaging to one party or another to even have a jungle election. It’s not good for the party and it’s not good for the people, because then it just becomes a statistical game rather than getting the best candidate to win. All I can do is get out the vote and support Republican principles and ideals over this radical agenda (of the Democratic Party).”

Priscilla Smith

Democrats have the same problem given that Priscilla Smith, the Trump-impersonating performance artist Reeves beat in November, has also qualified for the race. Unless she drops out, she could pull votes from Hensley. And there is also a fifth candidate, Libertarian Chris Neill, described as an education consultant on the secretary of state’s website, to consider.

With early voting in House District 34 beginning May 24, this is a race to watch.

TRANSIT: The latest newsletters from Cobb commissioners note a lot has changed since the county last completed a comprehensive transportation plan, in 2015.

“Our population has increased and transportation needs and opinions have shifted within the county and region,” the newsletters read. “New technologies and transportation solutions are also available that can enhance and transform Cobb’s future transportation system.”

To that end, county government will kick off a listening tour next week to solicit residents’ feedback for a new iteration of the comprehensive transportation plan, which will, officials hope, guide transportation spending for the next 30 years.

Most of that spending would almost certainly come from next year’s “mobility SPLOST,” a new sales tax voters will be asked to approve that could fund everything from road resurfacing to a MARTA rail line.

To top it all off, President Joe Biden has proposed an infrastructure plan that would, if approved by Congress — a big “if” — send billions of dollars to communities across the country to help them realize the very plans Cobb is putting together.

Transit advocates sense an opportunity. The Cobb 4 Transit group recently asked people to review the “alpha version” of its Cobb Transit Vision.

Matt Stigall, the group’s founder, notes that Cobb 4 Transit is an advocacy organization, and, as such, exists to push the county to go bigger, bolder.

“We can kind of look at this in a fiscally unconstrained way, and just sit there and say, look, what if we did … some crazy idea throughout the county,” he told AT.

Earlier this year, the Kimley-Horn firm showed county commissioners a map of potential transit projects they could fund with a 30-year 1% sales tax.

Those were very conservative, Stigall said. So were estimates for the amount of matching state and federal dollars the county could wrangle.

“So I think there was an opportunity to kind of show that spectrum — okay, here’s the lower estimates, and here’s the higher estimates and (these are) the different projects you could get,” he said.

As for the specifics of the Cobb Transit Vision, Stigall said that would be made public after an expanded pool of interested parties review the “beta” version later this year.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks at the Marietta Diner on Tuesday. To left: U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, and Maria Tselios, mother of Marietta Diner owner Gus Tselios.

Following his luncheon with local business leaders at the Marietta Diner on Tuesday, the MDJ asked Kevin McCarthy, the Republican minority leader in the U.S. House, what he believes caused the results of the last election where both of Georgia’s Republican senators were ousted from office and the state went blue for Joe Biden over Donald Trump. What caused this and how does he believe it can be reversed?

“Well, it was a close race, but it was a turnout we didn’t want,” McCarthy said. “Did we have the right message? Did we listen long enough? Did we follow solutions? You know, in the House, we didn’t lose one seat here. In the House of Representatives, where everybody predicted we’d lose seats, is the first time since 1994 no incumbent lost. We actually beat 15 Democrats. Every Democrat lost to a Republican woman or a Republican minority or a Republican veteran, so in the House we grew quite a bit. So my answer to your question is, the Senate ought to look to the members in the House and look to our message. We had a commitment to America about rebuilding 10 million new jobs, not cutting police, but adding more than a $1 billion ... 500,000 new body cameras, community policing. We talked about ending COVID with being able to have more vaccines. We talked about reforming the veterans, making sure every veteran has a job as well. We talked about an infrastructure bill for the next five years. So we had a plan for the future. I don’t know Senate races, I just know the House, and the outcome that we had was much different than anybody thought.”

BILL SIGNING: Gov. Brian Kemp paid a visit to the Cobb Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, where, overlooking Truist Park, he signed six bills awaiting his approval. He took his time on the mic to tout the economic development measures in the bills and defend his state reopening plans against critics who say the moves came too early.

He also didn’t miss the opportunity to poke some fun at the now former state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, who served as one of his floor leaders until his resignation, effective April 30.

Kemp jokingly called Reeves, sitting feet from him, a “has-been,” saying Reeves decided he’d rather work at some tech school up the road than the General Assembly, referring to his decision to join Georgia Tech as vice president of university relations.

“That really stung,” Reeves replied, to the crowd’s delight.

“I was hoping you weren’t going to get the microphone to be able to say that,” the governor shot back.

But Kemp quickly turned serious, applauding the solid work he said Reeves had done. The governor told the MDJ on his way out that Reeves leaves a legacy of “unbelievable legislating” and was able to work across the partisan aisle on “really tough issues.”

Kemp said Reeves was one of four floor leaders in the Georgia House, which is more than the typical two or three. The governor said he hasn’t decided what a replacement for Reeves might look like.

For his part, Reeves said he is thankful for the governor’s trust over the years. He said that trust enabled him to do what he has during his time in the House:

“When I became a floor leader … the things I had already poured a lot into and cared about — he allowed me to continue those things and supported and encouraged that. So he was just a really amazing person to work for in that respect.”

A special election to fill Reeves’ seat has been set for June.

SPEAKER CIRCUIT: State Sen. Michael “Doc” Rhett, D-Marietta, is hosting a legislative session recap and town hall this month. At 7 p.m. on May 10, Rhett will be joined by state Rep. Michael Smith, D-Marietta, to discuss the aftermath of a very busy 2021 legislative session. The event will be held at the Fair Oaks Recreation Center, 1465 West Booth Road Ext. in Marietta.

HAT IN THE RING: Joseph Goldstein plans to run for a second term, the Marietta councilman told the MDJ.

Goldstein, who represents Ward 7, is the youngest member of the council at 27. He was first elected at the tender age of 23, in 2017.

Goldstein has a bachelor’s degree and a law degree from the University of Georgia. He works in the family real estate business. He took over the post from his father Philip Goldstein, who represented Ward 7 for more than 35 years.

“I believe we can have orderly growth and development in Marietta that will enhance our city in the future without sacrificing our quality of life,” Goldstein said in a statement. “I hope to continue to serve the citizens of Marietta and Ward 7.”

State Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, has drawn a second Republican challenger in next year’s election. We told you about the first a month or so ago. Harold Earls is the former commander of the Guard for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. He also calls himself a social media influencer — he and his family film just about everything and post them as vlogs (video blogs). The channel has more than half a million subscribers.

The latest to declare is retired U.S. Army Col. Eric Welsh, who released a video Monday announcing his run.

Welsh came out swinging, labeling McBath a “single-issue partisan hack.” McBath’s signature issue is gun control — it’s what got her into politics, after her 17-year-old son was murdered at a Florida gas station in 2012.

Despite being a relative unknown, Welsh hit all the themes Republicans are embracing. Fighting cancel culture, stopping socialism, standing up to Nancy Pelosi and AOC? Check, check, check and check.

Welsh also blamed McBath for Major League Baseball’s decision to pull the All-Star Game out of Truist Park over Georgia’s new voting law. Expect that to be a common refrain among Republican candidates in the coming cycle.

As we wrote in this column last month, the fate of McBath could rest largely in the hands of state legislators, who will redraw congressional districts later this year. It’s expected that the GOP-controlled legislature will try to gerrymander McBath or her fellow Democrat, Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia’s seventh district, out of office. Drawing a surefire red district for one will probably save the other.

The MDJ likes to see government officials held accountable. So, when the paper’s editors and publisher recently sat down with Cobb County leadership, we wanted to know: had County Manager Jackie McMorris stuck to a pledge she made at the very beginning of the year?

As you might recall, McMorris was one of 17 county leaders who shared their New Year’s resolutions with us. Among her resolutions was finding a hobby, such as ballroom dancing.

“I’m still committed to that resolution,“ McMorris said. “However, because we’re still in COVID, I have not yet found the opportunity to do that.”

We’re keeping a close eye on this one, folks. Stay tuned.

THE OFFICE: At the same meeting, we asked Chairwoman Lisa Cupid about her inner circle. Her predecessor, Mike Boyce, had executive assistants Millie Rogers and Michael Murphy by his side, both of whom have since left county government. Who does Cupid have?

That would be Chief Assistant Brunessa Drayton, who Cupid described as a jack-of-all-trades ready to tackle just about anything and Executive Assistant Jennifer DeVault, who helps with day-to-day administrative matters such as scheduling, going through emails and staying on top of the myriad documents that come before the chairwoman for her review or signature.

Lisa Cupid, chair of the Cobb Board of Commissioners, right, and County Manager Dr. Jackie McMorris, during a Friday interview with the MDJ.

AROUND TOWN: What happened to Jesse?

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Jesse Evans

One of the bigger mysteries of the week is what happened to Cobb County Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Jesse Evans.

Flynn Broady

Evans, regarded by many as the top prosecutor in the state, and a 21-year veteran in the Cobb DAs office, abruptly left the office on Monday for good. District Attorney Flynn Broady issued a generic statement, although it seems something deeper is going on here. Multiple sources have suggested much more to the story centering around conflict with Co-Chief ADA Cindi Yeager. Around Town hears Broady was unable to smooth over that conflict, leading to Evans' decision to exit.

Cindi L. Yeager

Evans was chosen as the lead prosecutor on the high-profile Ahmaud Arbery case. Arbery, 25, was fatally shot on Feb. 23, 2020, by two men while out for a run in a residential neighborhood near his home in Brunswick. His death caused public outrage after a video of the incident surfaced and was often cited at last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests in Cobb and elsewhere. Broady has said the case will likely go to trial before the end of the year. Sources say the high profile case was placed in Cobb by Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr largely because of Evans' reputation as a top-notch prosecutor.

Given the high stakes of this case, onlookers in Cobb are more than a little curious about what brought about Evans' departure. Around Town continues to reach out to Evans. Stay tuned.

CLOWNS AND INFIGHTING: A morsel from the Cobb County Republican Women’s Club luncheon April 23. The moderator of the luncheon’s legislative panel, lobbyist Shawn Davis, noted that state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, would leave the General Assembly shortly for a job at Georgia Tech.

“Bert, naturally everybody in this room, I'm sure, is happy for you and wants to see you do well in your life and pick the right choices for your career,” Davis said. “At the same time, you had an opponent this past go-around, who I used to see at the Capitol, and she literally, when you first see her, you would think she was dressed up as a clown intentionally. And she was trying to make herself look like Donald Trump.”

That, of course, is Priscilla Smith, who first rose to prominence with her regular appearances at the Capitol dressed as “Donna Trump,” her over-the-top impersonation of the former president.

“But she was a clown, not a serious candidate,” Davis said. “And what worries me (is), she obtained 43% of the vote against Bert, just because she had a D next to her name.”

Priscilla Smith

It's going to be a jungle-style election on June 15, which means there will be no primary — just one election, with, potentially, multiple Republicans and multiple Democrats and multiple candidates from any other parties out there, all on the same ballot.

“If we have the kind of infighting we've had in the past — I'm never for anointing candidates, don't, don't misunderstand me,” Davis said, getting to his point. “But if we have the kind of infighting that we're typically known for, we can lose this seat. And so when we hear some really good, quality candidates' names appear, I hope we do what we can to rally behind the most qualified person we can, so that we can hold on to the seat.”

SCHOOL DISTRICT AUDIT: Days after a Facebook group appeared pushing for the recall of Democratic school board members Charisse Davis, Dr. Jaha Howard and Leroy Tre’ Hutchins, who requested a special review of the Cobb School District by its accrediting body, Cognia, a group supporting the three board members was also created.

When MDJ senior reporter Thomas Hartwell asked for information about the group, named “In Support of Charisse, Jaha and Tre and the Cognia Review” and to speak with the organizer(s), a nameless message came back.

Someone presumed to be a leader of the private group provided a statement, but declined to attach a name for attribution. Instead the statement was attributed to “the Admin Team for In Support for Charisse, Jaha and Tre and the Cognia Review”:

“Hi Thomas, The group’s focus is to show support for the review of Cobb County School District by Cognia. We agree with the decision of Dr. Howard, Ms. Davis and Mr. Hutchins to reach out to Cognia along with numerous community members on their concerns,” the statement in part reads.  

In related news, MDJ reporter Chart Riggall asked Commissioner Jerica Richardson this week if she supported the efforts of Howard, Davis and Hutchins to bring in the accreditation investigators. 

Jerica Richardson

"From my understanding, that's not the complete story—that it was something initiated by three board members—it was kind of a bunch of other things taking place. But as far as comments regarding the school board, I would definitely defer to the school board for that. From what I understand, there are more letters and more things that came up," she said. 

Richardson also said she hadn't discussed the matter with school board members. "I just know that there are people that are upset or interested or curious, that's kind of the general feedback of the community ... but it is the school board. It's a separate entity."

As readers may recall, during her campaign, Richardson waxed poetic about all the great things the commission and school board could accomplish if they worked together. 

Julia Hurtado

Also recall Richardson was once a campaign worker for Howard and this year selected Democrat Julia Hurtado as the education specialist on what she refers to as her cabinet. Hurtado, who lost last year in her race to unseat David Banks, runs a Facebook page blaming Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and the Republicans on the school board for all manner of crimes against humanity. But then, as Hubert Humphrey once said, "To err is human. To blame someone else is politics."

CHANCELLOR SEARCH: The Board of Regents has paused its search for a new chancellor, after pushback on the scuttlebutt that former governor and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue could be tapped to fill the role. And State Rep. Erick Allen, D-Smyrna, wants everyone to know Perdue is not his choice.

“The Board of Regents' decision to pause the search for a new Chancellor is a win for students who attend our state schools,” Allen said in a statement. “This is just the beginning; it is important that the calls for qualified leadership for this crucial role don’t stop, and I am in full support of students standing up for their own education.”

MEMORIAL: It was May 2 of last year, that the Rev. Henry Holley of Marietta peacefully entered his heavenly home.

Holley, 92, was known as the last living member of the world-renowned evangelical preacher Rev. Billy Graham’s personal team.

At the time of his passing, a private burial service was held, but the family this week announced a memorial and public celebration of Rev. Holley’s life will take place 11 a.m. Monday at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, 955 Johnson Ferry Rd. in Marietta. Rev. Bryant Wright will officiate.

Holley worked with Rev. Graham for 48 years, scheduling and planning the famous Billy Graham “Crusades” in all corners of the world. The 1973 crusade in Seoul, South Korea, for example, drew 1.1 million people on its final day. Holley served in the U.S. Marine Corps in both WWII and the Korean War before joining the Billy Graham Evangelical Association.

Son Hank Holley said the public is invited to Monday’s celebration. For those unable to attend, the service will be live-streamed at

In honor and memory of Holley’s life, donations may be made to Johnson Ferry Baptist Church,, or the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

Rev. Henry Holley

Devan Seabaugh

Bert Reeves

Republican Devan Seabaugh, vice president of administration for Metro Atlanta Ambulance, has thrown his hat in the ring for the special election to replace state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta. Reeves, who was just reelected last November to the District 34 seat, announced last week he is resigning to take a cabinet position with Georgia Tech. That triggers a special election, the date of which will be set by Gov. Brian Kemp. Cobb Elections Director Janine Eveler said while Kemp could wait until November to set the election, he's likely to set it this summer so as to have a full House when the Legislature meets for its special redistricting session later this year. Once Kemp picks the election date, the secretary of state will determine when candidates can qualify for the seat. Eveler said another factor is that there are no primaries in this special election. Democratic and Republican candidates all run together, and if no one gets 50 percent plus 1 vote, the top two vote getters advance to a runoff. This did not work to the GOP's advantage when state Sen. Hunter Hill, R-Vinings, gave up his seat to run for governor a few years ago. So many Republicans jumped in the race, they diluted the GOP vote, allowing the two Democrats in the race, Jen Jordan and Jaha Howard to advance to the runoff, with Jordan ultimately winning the seat. A similar thing happened in the special election to replace U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson. Republicans Kelly Loeffler and Doug Collins spent so much time going after each other that when Loeffler advanced to the runoff with Rev. Raphael Warnock, Warnock won the Senate seat. 

But back to Seabaugh. Seabaugh, 55, grew up in Marietta and played full back and defensive end for the Blue Devils, graduating with the Marietta High School Class of 1983. He earned a business degree at the University of West Georgia and lives in unincorporated Marietta with his wife, Beth. The couple has five children.

Seabaugh’s previous experience with politics is in 2000, when he ran unsuccessfully for the western district seat on the Cobb Board of Commissioners.

He is active in civic life, as a member of the Kiwanis Club of Marietta, the Dallas Rotary Club, the WellStar Kennestone Regional Advisory Board and the Safe Kids organization, and he was involved in the creation of the Cobb Safety Village, among other activities.

Look for Seabaugh to roll out his campaign platform and website in the coming days. 

Kevin Nicholas

WHEN ONE DOOR CLOSES… After a four year stint with the Development Authority of Cobb County, Kevin Nicholas has not been asked for a second dance.

The tech executive and former District 2 commissioner candidate says he has no hard feelings toward Chairwoman Lisa Cupid, who instead elected to nominate Courtney Knight, founder of Capstone Capital Advisors LLC and Capstone Municipal Advisors LLC.

Courtney Knight

But he was a bit surprised by the move.

“I met with Chairwoman Cupid in the beginning of March about my reappointment and we had a very good conversation. She actually complimented me on my service, and I thought that I might get reappointed based on my track record, but clearly she decided otherwise. And that’s her, that’s her…” Nicholas told Around Town, searching for the word, “that’s her right to do.”

“I was very appreciative and honored to serve the community on the development authority for the past four years and … we developed some critical thinking around these projects," he added. "And I think that has carried through to really create decisions that were really impactful for the county."

Nicholas will be taking on a new gig as vice chair of the Cobb Republican Party. He’s not under the impression that played a role in his passing over, though in Cobb these days, one can never be sure.

“I believe that she had chosen someone prior to me meeting with her, and again, that’s her right to do.”

For her part, Cupid said party affiliation wasn’t a consideration.

Lisa Cupid

“Oh no, not at all. I wasn’t aware of that,” Cupid said of Nicholas’ new post in the GOP. “If he were to have been reappointed, he wouldn’t have been the first—or last—Republican I’ve appointed to a position.”

Cupid added while Nicholas was “a strong candidate,” she’d already begun submitting names for consideration several months back and Knight was the one that stood out to her. She even proffered that she might take a look at Nicholas for a board-wide appointment (a new feature of the board’s recently adopted resolution on development authority spots).

There’s only one such spot open at present, currently held by Vinings Bank exec Clark Hungerford. Commissioner Keli Gambrill has made it clear she’s had enough of Hungerford, while JoAnn Birrell wants him back for another term. The remaining commissioners have said they’re undecided on who should get that spot.

Clark Hungerford

Around Town also asked Nicholas what he makes of the tension which rippled throughout county GOP conventions a couple weeks back—should the party look to feed the base, or expand the tent? Nicholas hedged, but tended toward the later tack.

“I think we need not only to keep the current Cobb GOP base motivated and re-motivated, but most importantly is, to all the new people coming in, to give them direction in order to move this party forward. (That’s) in terms of getting good Republicans elected, but also in terms of messaging as far as being inclusive and being a party that stands for everyone,” he said.

The response was less than predictable, given that Nicholas will be playing right hand man to Salleigh Grubbs, the only candidate for Cobb GOP chair who mentioned Donald Trump by name in her speech on convention day.

To that point, Mr. Vice Chair, should the party move forward with 45, or without him?

“I think Donald Trump being our president, he had a lot of very good policies … but unfortunately he’s not the president anymore,” Nicholas said. “As the Republican base, we need to continue with the party. The party should be representative of everyone who believes in conservative principles, and that’s what we’re planning to do is, expand the party.

“It’s not expanding belief in Donald Trump, it’s expanding the Republican Party in terms of inclusivity and the conservative message and the values that we stand for.”

Speaking of the newly-elected Cobb GOP chair, Grubbs got a very special call recently. Grubbs received a standing applause as she took the podium at the Cobb County Republican Women’s Club luncheon Friday. As she concluded her remarks — “We have a lot of work to do to turn Cobb red again,” she told the crowd — someone asked her to share who had called her the other night.

Salleigh Grubbs

“I kind of freaked out a little bit, but President (Donald) Trump called me,” she said.

“It was a private number, and I had spoken with (state GOP Chairman) David Shafer and he told me that he thought (Trump) would be calling and to be looking out for a Florida number. And it was a no caller ID call, which a lot of times I don't take those."

Given her new role, she decided it could be someone important and answered anyway. Trump introduced himself in exactly the way one might expect.

“He said, ‘Well hello Salleigh, this is your favorite person,’” she recalled. “I said, ‘Yes sir, Mr. President, you are my favorite person.”

The call lasted 21 minutes.

“It was incredible and let me tell you: y'all make sure your teeth are brushed and your hair is combed and you got on a nice wardrobe, because the president is watching,” she said. “He is here to support us, and he is very much promoting a message of unity, just like we are here in Cobb County.”

Grubbs will need more than simply Trump supporters if she hopes to flip the county back red again. Joe Biden received 56,387 more votes in Cobb County than Trump did in November.  

Bert Reeves’ seven-year run as state representative for District 34 comes to a close next Friday. The popular lawmaker announced he is resigning to take on a top-brass position at the Georgia Institute of Technology May 1.

Bert Reeves

In a Friday MDJ interview discussing his career change, Reeves dropped the name of North Cobb High School teacher Linda Morrisson and credited her with helping kindle his love for public affairs.

As any newshawk worth their salt would do, Around Town rang educator Morrisson, hoping to dig up some dirt, perhaps an incident or two of misconduct, from Reeves’ impetuous teenage years.

No such luck.

She did, however, share this anecdote: North Cobb’s Model U.N. delegation, with Reeves being a member, was in the Big Apple for its annual competition. It was the group’s last night in NYC and tradition called for the North Cobb Warriors to take in a Broadway show. While waiting on their ride to the theater from the lobby of the posh New York Hilton and Towers on 6th Avenue in Midtown, Reeves spotted an idle baby grand piano.

Reeves approached his teacher. “Mrs. Morrison, do you think I could sit down and play that piano?” she recalled him asking.

“And he sat down at that piano in the lobby of the New York Hilton and Towers and played until he actually had a group of people (those with the group and other hotel guests) standing around and applauding, listening to him.”

When asked what tunes he played, Morrisson couldn’t recall, but when AT questioned Reeves about the impromptu concert, he recalled it vividly.

“I remember it well. I played and sang Billy Joel’s piano man and Tiny Dancer by Elton John.”

Those familiar with Bert know he spends his free time climbing mountains and making music. He’s the lead singer and guitarist for the rock n’ roll band, “Attractive Nuisance.”

Speaking of Reeves, who will replace him? Reeves’ tenure representing District 34 will end April 30. Gov. Brian Kemp has considerable leeway as to when the special election to replace Reeves is held. The district, like many in Georgia’s northern suburbs, has been trending blue over the past decade.

Consider that in 2012, Reeves’ predecessor Charles Gregory didn’t even draw a Democratic challenger. Reeves himself has beat back three Democrats, but since 2016 the spread has thinned from 28 points, to 16 points, to, in 2020, 12 points.

That’s not to say it wouldn’t be an uphill battle for Democrats. Reeves won almost 3,700 more votes than Democrat Priscilla Smith last cycle, out of about 30,000 votes cast. But it's not unimaginable.

Special elections can be strange. Turnout will be lower than a general or midterm. One could see the local GOP, out of power at the federal level, be plenty energized to defend the seat. Or, we could see a microcosm of the internecine war that divided the party after Trump’s loss, leading to Democratic control of the U.S. Senate. Don’t forget, though, that Republicans in the state House fared better than Trump did in Georgia. Then again, Democrats may be able to fire up their base over SB 202, the election reform law.

Oh, and did we mention redistricting? It happens once a decade after census data is released, i.e., some time this year. And in this country, the politicians often choose their voters, instead of the reverse. By election time, District 34 could contain quite a different cohort of voters than it did last fall.

Much to consider. Perhaps trying to read the tea leaves is a fool’s errand.

BOMBSHELL: Of course, no week would be complete without a bombshell out of the Cobb school board. An announcement of a special review of the school district by its accrediting agency came in after the board’s closed-door session on Thursday evening. Normally, executive session is finished at least a few minutes before the regular meeting at 7 p.m., but, judging by the polarization of the board and the language in the district’s news release, we would venture to guess there was a Republican-Democrat boxing match going on in there.

Maybe that’s why board Chair Randy Scamihorn at the start of Thursday’s regular meeting around 7:15 p.m. welcomed everyone “to our March 18, 2021, school board meeting.”

We don’t blame him for potentially trying to go back to (slightly) less controversial days, but maybe he was just caught by a special review sucker punch.

“Pardon me, I’m trying to relive a month,” Scamihorn added shortly after.

EVERYBODY LOVES TRE: If Cobb school board member Leroy “Tre” Hutchins is concerned about the Cobb School District's accrediting body investigating the school district, he certainly didn’t show it in his Friday morning Facebook program, “Coffee Talk with Tre.” Hutchins didn’t get around to addressing the issue until 33 minutes into his program, just as he was signing off. 

Leroy "Tre" Hutchins

“That’s it. Well let me not say ‘that’s it’ because I don’t want to be disingenuous to my community. Also announced yesterday, and it wasn’t announced in the board meeting, but many of you may have received an announcement from the superintendent in regards to an unplanned visit to the Cobb County School District. That information did go out via CTLS yesterday, so please make sure that you go and look at that information that was sent out from our superintendent and, you know, start doing your research in regards to who Cognia (the accrediting agency) is. … And what this process of coming to review the school district looks like, and so we’ll be working with them in regards to the next — I’m not sure how long ... but they’re coming, and so we’re going to move forward with that, so thank you.”

Hutchins also thanked his admirers for their love.  

“I went to sleep last night late, because a lot of calls from elected officials, a lot of calls from community leaders last night, and so thank you, thank you, thank you for calling. No. 1, not just to understand what is happening, but to also check on me and to make sure I am well and things are well, and then to say what can we do to move forward to help. So I appreciate all of those calls. Those emails that I received late into the evening. The phone calls I received from educators first thing. I’m talking about 6:30 in the morning my phone was ringing. Educators calling to say, ‘Tre, we love you. We support you. I got a lot of prayers. Texts to me. Thank you, Abby. It was exciting to wake up to that. I’m awake and more energized and ready to continue to do what we do to support all children in Cobb County, so thank you for each and every one of you for reaching out and for loving on me and continue to support what we do to ensure our children have a equitable education here in Cobb County.”

No mention that Hutchins, along with fellow Democrats Charisse Davis and Jaha Howard were the ones who asked the accrediting agency to investigate the school system, according to Superintendent Chris Ragsdale. And no mention of the risks they've put the students and property owners in should the accreditation agency downgrade the district’s accreditation.

BUCKHEAD REPUBLICANS: State Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, has a message for Cobb’s young Republicans: don’t listen to your friends in Buckhead.

Ed Setzler

Setzler was one of three state lawmakers who spoke before the Cobb Young Republicans Club Wednesday evening, and he told them he learned a couple things while campaigning.

“There’s this battle right now, there’s this idea, ‘Well, we need to … be more socially contextualized, we need to kind of follow the numbers where they’re going,” he said. “That’s not what I found going door-to-door.”

Pretty confident words for someone who defeated his opponent by the hair on his chinny chin chin: Of the 30,098 votes cast in his race, he beat Democrat Kyle Rinaudo by a nail-biting 280 votes. But back to Setzler: as he sees it, there are two groups that share Republicans’ values but consistently vote for Democrats: Black and Asian Americans.

“They have no business voting for a 25-year-old socialist who wants to be the next Alexandria Ocasio Cortez,” he said, taking a crack at Rinaudo. “What we need to do as we go door-to-door is recognize there’s a massive swath of people in our culture who believe exactly like we do, who share our values, who believe — the one thing they like about the Republican Party is what we believe, what we stand for,” he continued. “What they don’t like is they’re not sure they trust Republicans. … It’s an issue of (the) spirit by which we do things.

“Buckhead Republicans will tell us, we need to abandon our values, we need to move to the center, move to the left on social issues and all these other issues because that’s where the culture is. That’s a lie.”

In the United Methodist Church, pastors are sent to a congregation by the higher-ups, not hired or appointed locally.

“The needs and desires of the pastor and the congregation are considered, but the mission of the church comes first,” reads the UMC’s website.

Such a conflict of needs is playing out at Mt. Bethel UMC in east Cobb. The senior pastor of the church, Dr. Jody Ray, is being reassigned, and the congregation isn’t happy about it.

Dr. Jody Ray

A letter to north Georgia conference Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson cites the challenges of the pandemic and an ongoing rift in the UMC as reasons to ensure stability for their congregation.

The church, congregants say, is only now getting back to in-person worship. A debate over LGBTQ issues is threatening to rip apart the UMC, which more than 6 million Americans belong to. Conservative congregations are planning to establish a new, “Global Methodist Church” denomination.

“We are just returning to in-person worship after a post COVID-19 Pandemic lockdown that has deeply impacted this community and the entire world. In addition, it is no secret these are very fragile times for our denomination,” reads the letter, which had garnered nearly 4,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning.

Mt. Bethel, which has counted former Cobb County Commissioner Bob Ott and former Cobb Chairman Mike Boyce among its membership, has approximately 9,000 members, according to the UMC’s Find a Church database. The campaign to keep Ray at the east Cobb location is supported by the executive committee of the Mt. Bethel UMC administrative council.

Ray has been the senior pastor at Mt. Bethel since June 2016, nearly five years, per his LinkedIn page.

The reappointment is scheduled to take effect July 1. Steven Usry, pastor-in-charge at Sugarloaf UMC in Gwinnett County, was selected to take over at Mt. Bethel.

Rev Dr Steven Usry

Ray addressed the matter in his sermon Sunday, which can be viewed on the church’s Facebook page. Choking back tears at some times, he explained in the sermon that he was offered an appointment on the North Georgia conference staff and declined. Another appointment has not been offered by the conference.

Ray seemed to imply the reassignment may have been political. Addressing his son in the audience, Ray said, “I want you to also remember this day, that your daddy didn't bow the knee nor kiss the ring of progressive theology that is in fact no theology ...”

He was met with raucous applause.

DEBATING THE ELECTION LAW: Georgia’s elections overhaul was an attempt at suppressing the vote, state Democrats argue. Not so, counter Republicans. But, had some of her fellow Republicans had their way, the 98-page omnibus bill may well have lived up to the heated rhetoric Democrats have used to tar it, according to state Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-east Cobb.

Sharon Cooper

“Some of the (elections) bills that were put in in the beginning would have been voter suppression,” Cooper said during a virtual legislative update hosted by the Senior Citizen Council of Cobb County last week. “But, through the legislative process, those real radical bills — and it happens on other subjects too — they don’t move, or they don’t survive.”

Kay Kirkpatrick

Several Cobb lawmakers joined Cooper for the legislative update, including state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, R-east Cobb. Among the problematic ideas found in some early elections bills this year was an end to no-excuse absentee voting, Kirkpatrick said.

“With any big omnibus bill, there's never going to be a perfect bill,” she said. But the state’s method for verifying an absentee voter’s identity at the time, signature matching, was a “trainwreck last election,” she continued, with elections officials spending “massive amounts” of time to match or verify people’s ever-shifting signatures. Replacing that method with a state ID number will cut down on confusion and save time, according to Kirkpatrick.

Of course, Democrats on the call saw the bill in a different light.

State Rep. Mary Frances Williams, D-Marietta, said Cobb lawmakers had spoken to Janine Eveler, the county’s elections director, during the crafting of the omnibus bill.

Mary Frances Williams

“Most frustrating is, Cobb’s spent quite a bit of money on 16 drop boxes. But one of the things that I do think is voter suppression is the bill limits the amount of drop boxes a county can have.”

Ballot drop boxes had never been allowed in Georgia. The state elections board granted counties emergency permission at the start of the pandemic to install the boxes, thinking fewer people could spread or catch the virus if they were to vote that way rather than waiting in a line with others.

Cobb eventually installed 16 drop boxes, which were available 24/7 at locations around the county. New restrictions in the omnibus bill mean the county will only offer five drop boxes in future elections, all of them located inside early voting centers during those centers’ operating hours. The boxes will no longer be available in the days immediately preceding an election.

“People get excited at the very end (of an election),” said state Rep. David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs. “If you have a competitive race ... a lot of people decided at the very end what they were going to do, whether they were going to vote for a Democrat, Republican or stay home. We've taken that option away from them unless they go to the actual poll on Election Day.”

David Wilkerson

KELLY LOEFFLER AND THE ALL STAR GAME: While President Joe Biden announced this week an end to the United States’ 20 year conflict in Afghanistan, another “forever war” may be brewing here in Cumberland.

Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s new voter engagement group, Greater Georgia, is buying multiple billboards in the Truist Park area to hit Democrats over Cobb County’s loss of the 2021 All Star Game.

“Joe Biden, Stacey Abrams, and Raphael Warnock cost the Georgia economy $100 million,” a tweet from the former senator read.

“All three must be held accountable. That's why we are calling out the #StrikeOutSquad by placing billboards in high-traffic areas around Truist Park.”

True to their word, the ad shows the trio dimly cast and labeled the “Strike Out Squad.” The tenor of the graphic will be familiar to any readers who received dozens of mailers in the days leading up to the Jan. 5 runoff election that cost Loeffler her seat.

Loeffler’s billboard isn’t the first to hit Biden and company over the All-Star Game — earlier this month, the Republican National Committee announced the purchase of a similar billboard on Cobb Parkway.

“JOE BIDEN’S LIES COST GEORGIA $100 MILLION,” it blares next to the President’s mug. “GEORGIANS WON’T FORGET.”

And the $100 million figure? We’ll just say there’s a bipartisan interest not to check the math on that one.

FOR THE RECORD: South Cobb Commissioner Monique Sheffield set the record straight.

In her State of Mableton address last month, Sheffield said the following of efforts to incorporate the city:

Monique Sheffield

“My position has always been to leave it to the homeowners to decide.”

After an inquiry from a resident, Sheffield reached out to the MDJ to clarify — it’s the voters, not simply the homeowners, who she wants to have the final say.

People take a number of approaches to fasting for Ramadan, Islam’s holy month. Those who partake are forbidden from eating or drinking during daylight hours, which, in Cobb today, is about 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Fadi Ali, an administrator at the West Cobb Islamic Center, doesn’t go for a big pre-dawn meal to power him through the day.

“I literally just put a date next to my bed,” Ali said. He sets an alarm that goes off before sunrise, at which point he pops the date in his mouth, takes a swig of water, “and I’m out.”

In college, he participated in something called a fast-a-thon, in which the school’s Muslims encouraged non-Muslims to fast with them. He has since encouraged his neighbors to follow suit, if they’re interested.

“And so one of my neighbors did participate two days in a row,” he told Around Town on Saturday. “He’s like, ‘Oh, I do intermittent fasting, it won’t be a big deal.'

"Half way into the first day, he’s like, ‘Dude, I’m THIRSTY.’”

SPEAKER CIRCUIT: State Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-west Cobb, and state Reps. Matt Dollar, R-east Cobb, and Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, will serve on a panel moderated by Shawn Davis at the Friday luncheon of the Cobb Republican Women's Club. 

The event is from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Atlanta/Marietta Hilton Hotel & Conference Center. 

Marietta Diner patron Pamela Alayon may have coined the state of Georgia’s newest motto — “Don’t ‘New York’ my Georgia” — during an interview on the morning news program Fox & Friends earlier this week.

“Don’t ‘New York’ my Georgia.” That might just be a new catchphrase for residents of the Peach State after Fox & Friends morning news program broadcast live from the Marietta Diner this week.

Fox News personality Pete Hegseth was making the rounds, chatting with diner patrons. When Hegseth asked for reaction to Major League’s Baseball move of the All-Star Game out of Truist Park in Cobb County, customer Pamela Alayon had this to say: “I was very upset about that. Why is New York (where MLB is headquartered) telling Cobb County what to do? It’s affected our small business owners and minority business owners … So, don’t New York my Georgia.”

“Well said,” Hegseth replied. “That might be the phrase of the morning: ‘Don’t New York my Georgia.’”

Alayon, who lives in east Cobb with her husband William, knows a thing or two about New York, having grown up there. A mother of five who owns a hospitality recruiting franchise, she serves as the Cobb GOP’s vice chair of membership and is one of three candidates running to replace term-limited GOP Chairman Jason Shepherd at Saturday’s county convention held at Roswell Street Baptist Church.

The other two candidates are Dr. Lisa Adkins of Kennesaw and Salleigh Grubbs of Marietta.

GOOD RELATIONSHIPS: Despite a contentious legislative session that left many an onlooker with the impression that the divide between state Republicans and Democrats has never been greater, a bipartisan trio of Cobb lawmakers sat shoulder-to-shoulder as they told members of the Kiwanis Club of Marietta Thursday that they really do like each other.

“The truth is, there are good relationships between Republicans and Democrats,” said state Rep. Mary Frances Williams, D-Marietta.

State Rep. Erick Allen, D-Smyrna, agreed.

“It’s still dysfunctional at times,” he said of the Statehouse. But “it’s not as bad as what you see on TV. … As long as you can live with their philosophy and not make everything personal, you can get a lot of work done.”

State Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-west Cobb, sandwiched between the two, pointed out that folks have a bad habit of watching what’s happening in Washington, D.C., and assuming state lawmakers are marching in lockstep. Not so — he doesn’t agree with everything in his national party’s platform, and neither, likely, did his colleagues to his right and left, he said Thursday.

State Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, was scheduled to join them but had to cancel to attend a doctor’s meeting for his son, whose COVID-induced heart condition was chronicled in the MDJ last month.

Speaking of national politics, the trio fielded a question regarding MLB’s decision to pull its All-Star game from Truist Park after state Republicans overhauled Georgia’s elections laws.

The Democrats, no fans of the changes, bemoaned MLB’s decision, which Allen called a “mistake.” Williams said “the wrong people were punished by moving the All-Star Game out of Cobb.”

Tippins said he was more concerned with the reaction of Delta Air Lines, whose CEO slammed the law in a letter to employees after it had passed, prompting a last-minute effort by House Republicans to strip the airline of its jet fuel tax credit. According to some news reports, they were furious a company that had discussed aspects of the law with them behind the scenes waited until after its passage to voice such strong opposition.

From left: Cobb lawmakers Erick Allen, Lindsey Tippins and Mary Frances Williams laugh during a legislative update at the Kiwanis Club of Marietta Thursday. 

DEFUND WHAT? The Cobb Board of Commissioners received a stern warning from a local couple during its Tuesday meeting.

“Let me say that if the Board of Commissioners, in any of your meetings, in any of your decisions, decide to defund police any amount, you’re going to find the citizens of this county voting you out of office,” boomed Leroy Emkin.

His remarks followed those of his wife, Christine Rozman, who expressed grave concern at the unrest unfolding in Minneapolis, and with Cobb Sheriff Craig Owens’ ending his office’s agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Emkin continued, “We’ve also heard that you, the Board of Commissioners, have been considering the possibility of reducing funding of police. Unacceptable!”

Suffice to say the board was taken aback. Commissioners Jerica Richardson and JoAnn Birrell looked at one another in confusion. Commissioner Monique Sheffield’s eyes rolled double-time.

As the meeting wound down, MDJ reporter Chart Riggall asked each commissioner whether they did have any such plans. The responses ranged from disbelief to indignation.

“We’re trying to find money to increase the police budget,” Sheffield said, as Richardson echoed the sentiment.

“Yes!” Birrell called out. “We’ve got to move step-and-grade forward, and I’m leading the charge on that.”

Chairwoman Lisa Cupid said, “We have gone to the opposite end of defunding. We have vastly increased funding of police here. I don’t know where that rumor was started.”

Commissioner Keli Gambrill was also adamantly opposed.

“I have been hearing that circulate as well,” she said. “I think it is out there, and the citizens are very aware of it. And hence, that’s why we have the drive for cityhood.”

Gambrill referred only to “talk on the street,” conceding that it was just that: talk.

“There is nothing substantial from my role as commissioner that has been presented to me to have a basis for those comments,” she said.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Among the many community amenities that Cobb banker Joe Daniell can take some credit for — the annual Cobb Prayer Breakfast, renovation of the beloved Strand Theatre on Marietta Square, the launch of the Aviation Wing of the Marietta Museum of History, to name a few — are the occasional lunches he organizes for his employer, Vinings Bank. Those events always offer notable speakers, good food and great conversation.

On Thursday, however, the folks at the bank turned the tables on Daniell, holding a surprise 80th birthday luncheon for the community legend.

Friends and family were on hand to fete the octogenarian, but as is the case with most people who prefer to get the work done not from center stage but from behind the scenes, Daniell, the MDJ Citizen of the Year back in 2004, was speechless as he walked into the Vinings Bank gathering room to a chorus of voices crying “surprise.”

Bank CEO Dan Oliver shared with the audience Daniell’s long list of accomplishments before introducing Cobb Chairwoman Lisa Cupid and Commissioner JoAnn Birrell who presented him with a county proclamation recognizing all he’s done for the county. Not to be outdone, Marietta Mayor Steve “Thunder” Tumlin was up next with his own proclamation issued by the city.

MDJ columnist Dick Yarbrough and Managing Editor J.K. Murphy took a turn at the lectern as did son Alex Daniell.

Yarbrough said, “Joe knows about making this a better place to live. And he’s done that with the prayer breakfast, he’s done that with his support of Lockheed. He’s done that in support of the city and county. Joe, you’re a great man who’s done great things.”

Bank Chief Credit Officer Clark Hungerford presented Daniell with a gift from the employees. Each employee, Hungerford explained, was asked to describe Daniell in one word. Those words were then etched into wood in the form of a cross.

Wayne Dodd, representing the office of Congressman Barry Loudermilk, presented Daniell with a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol in honor of his 80th birthday.

Pulling on Daniell’s love of music and his 15 years as a choir director at Powder Springs First Baptist Church, Senior Vice President Caric Martin announced a special gift from the bank’s board of directors. “Joe has a million ideas … and he leaves me in awe. About every time I think ‘How did you think of that?’ ... In recognition of (his love for music), the board has decided to fund a scholarship in your name at Kennesaw State University for a music major from Cobb County,” Martin said.

Mr. Daniell, for all you have done and for what we know you will continue to do, Around Town expresses our gratitude and best of wishes on your 80th birthday.

Caric Martin of Vinings Bank speaks during the celebration of longtime Cobb banker and community supporter Joe Daniell's 80th birthday.

The Cobb Board of Commissioners has at last reached an end to their months — or depending on whom you ask, years-long spat over the appointments process to the county development authority.

Well, maybe.

Keli Gambrill

In a 4-1 vote Tuesday, with Commissioner Keli Gambrill opposed, commissioners approved a new resolution designating who will nominate candidates for each spot on the seven-person Development Authority of Cobb County. Each commissioner and the chair will have one appointment, while the other two seats are chosen by “a consensus of the board.”

Readers will recall the dispute began earlier this year, when Gambrill alleged Chairwoman Lisa Cupid had blocked her nomination of RE/MAX Agent Jim Barner. Traditionally, commissioners agreed (with some discrepancies in the details), some districts were privileged with more appointments to the development authority than others. It was a gentleman’s agreement, of sorts.

Cupid told Around Town she wanted to make the process more equitable across the districts. After several debates across recent weeks, the county attorney’s office drew up the resolution approved Tuesday.

That “consensus of the board,” however, as of yet remains a hazy ideal.

Gambrill objected to the resolution by saying it does not establish how the two at-large nominees will ultimately be chosen, which is true. And by her argument, it doesn’t resolve the issue they originally set out to solve.

“It's not clear how we're supposed to bring them forward, what the considerations are supposed to be, and how it's going to be handled,” Gambrill said at the commission's work session Monday.

Gambrill said she plans to put Barner’s name forward again, while Commissioner JoAnn Birrell will be re-nominating incumbent member Clark Hungerford, of Vinings Bank.

“We know Clark Hungerford, he’s been on the board for 22 years,” Gambrill said. “It’s time for somebody else to serve … it’s not good for the county if we just keep continually using the same people over and over and over again.”

It remains to be seen whether the other three commissioners plan to throw out nominees for Hungerford’s seat — Around Town was working to gather that information as of press time. But we expect the names to be flying in by the next BOC meeting.

GROWING PAINS: The county’s newest commissioners, Jerica Richardson and Monique Sheffield, gave brief updates on their districts at Saturday's Cobb Democratic Party meeting. 

Monique Sheffield

Most interesting was Sheffield’s presentation, during which she discussed south Cobb’s “growing pains.”

“There's no secret that we’re dealing with a lot of development,” she said. Strip malls gutted, in part, by the pandemic and Amazon’s growing retail dominance, are being converted to apartments, she said.

“Apartments somehow has become synonymous with crime, and with low income ... and the apartments are like $2,000 (to) $2,500 (per month),” she said. “It’s a different type of buyer, so we need to change the narrative and the thought as it relates to apartments.”

Sheffield also noted that she wants to see developments bring amenities to the area, amenities one can walk to. But she was shocked, she said, when she learned the price of sidewalks: $1 million per mile. Although she’s been receiving a lot of requests for sidewalks, Sheffield said some areas will have to wait as the county prioritizes those that really need them.

"We have several apartment communities in District 4 who shop, they grocery shop, at the Dollar Store," she said. "So for that constituency, there is a need for sidewalks, not necessarily for those who may want to just walk out their front door and take a nice walk down the street." 

As her area adds density, it will need updated, “futuristic infrastructure” to handle the additional people and vehicles. But, she said, people shouldn’t worry too much about stormwater — it is the older communities, she said, the ones built before newer codes were written, that tend to flood, rather than the newer ones.

Finally, Sheffield notes money has been set aside in the recently passed SPLOST for an indoor running track. While she still needs to find a location, she is leaning toward the southern tip of the county.

The track, she hopes, will become a destination location for track and field events and spur the construction of higher-quality hotels in south Cobb.

FALLOUT: Actor Will Smith announced he would not be filming his latest movie in Georgia due to the state’s new voting laws.

In a statement, Smith said the law was “reminiscent of voting impediments that were passed at the end of Reconstruction to prevent many Americans from voting."

And: "We cannot in good conscience provide economic support to a government that enacts regressive voting laws that are designed to restrict voter access."

State Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-west Cobb, was among those who voted in favor of the bill. 

“He’s got freedom of speech, but I’m not sure he knows how to read. I’ll bet money he has not read the bill,” Tippins said of Smith.

Tippins says when he hears complaints about the bill, he asks folks if they’ve read it.

Lindsey Tippins

“And they say, 'Well, no, but I’ve been told what’s in it.' I say, 'Well, read the bill. And then tell me the section and the line item you have a problem with and we’ll discuss it.' Everybody wants to talk in generalities. Nobody wants to talk in specifics.”

Of course, Smith has a right to say what he likes, even if it's wrong, just as he has a right to move his movie out of Georgia, Tippins said. 

"That will be one less film tax credit we have to pay. I’d say we’ll be money ahead when he leaves," Tippins said. 

The senator believes Gov. Brian Kemp summed it up best when he said Georgia needs to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.

“And when you do not have ballot security, you have a problem,” Tippins said. “I don’t know who that Will guy is, but Delta is ready when he is — but he’ll have to show his ID.”

Cobb DA Flynn Broady announced several events planned for next week, which is “National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.”  This year’s theme is “Support Victims. Build Trust. Engage Communities.”

Flynn Broady

Local events will include:

April 18, from 3-5 p.m. — The Crime Victims Advocacy Council and First Baptist Church, Decatur, will host the 31st Annual Homicide Memorial outside the church, located at 308 Clairemont Avenue in Decatur. Broady will speak at the event.

April 22, 1 p.m. – Georgia’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and partner agencies will host a virtual ceremony.

April 24 – Premiere of “Run for Justice,” a virtual 5K run/walk fundraiser to benefit LiveSafe Resources and SafePath Children’s Advocacy Center. Participation is limited to the DA’s office and partner agencies, though the hope is to make it an annual public event beginning next year.

This is the 40th anniversary of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, which was established by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

“Victims suffer emotionally, physically, and financially from the criminal acts committed against them. As a community and as service providers, we have an obligation to recognize the impact of crime on victims and to provide resources and assistance to help victims heal,” Kim McCoy, director of the DA’s Victim Witness Assistance Unit, said in a news release. “This week of recognition and these planned events reinforce the commitment of this office to serve crime victims with dignity, respect, and honor and to engage community partners in the continuation of victim services, to build trust, and to engage the entire community in these efforts.”

CHAMBER CHAIR: It’s been a tradition following each Cobb Chamber of Commerce annual meeting that the MDJ publishes a photo of the outgoing chairman congratulating the incoming chairman. That would have been impossible this year as 2020 Chairman John Loud of LOUD Security Systems has signed on for a second year at the helm. Not to slight the chamber’s chief by denying him the newspaper’s spotlight, the MDJ superimposed Loud congratulating Loud. The tradition lives on.

John Loud, the 2020 Cobb Chamber of Commerce chairman, congratulates the 2021 chairman.

Lisa Cupid

The Republican National Committee, which has released an ad targeting President Joe Biden, features none other than Cobb Board of Commissioners Chair Lisa Cupid. 

Joe Biden

The economic loss to metro Atlanta's minority-owned businesses caused by moving the All-Star Game from Cobb to Colorado is not something Biden cares about, the RNC ad argues. 

“I would strongly support them doing that,” the ad quotes Biden saying on his support of moving the game out of Georgia in response to the new voting bill Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law. 

It then cuts to news footage of Cupid, the county's first Black, female chair, saying: “We have a lot of people who will be impacted by this” and “these certainly would have been uplifted should they have chosen to stay here, and recognizing that we are in a pandemic, this would have given us a lift out of that.”

That's not the only place you'll see Cupid on TV talking about the issue. Cupid went on Fox News this week to oppose the move.

“We have done a lot to invest in providing accessible elections for all of our citizens here in the county, and a lot of those investments will become a sunk cost when this goes through,” Cupid said, referring to the new limits on absentee ballot drop-boxes, as a graphic touting Cobb Travel and Tourism’s figure of $100 million in lost economic impact blared on the screen.

South Cobb Commissioner Monique Sheffield also took to the airways to talk about the subject, appearing on The Donlon Report earlier this week. Those wondering what The Donlon Report is are among friends here — the nightly news show runs on NewsNation, a cable TV arm of Chicago-based WGN-TV.

(Around Town was compelled to Google that information after Sheffield touted the interview in her weekly newsletter.)

Monique Sheffield

“We were a little disappointed—actually, we were a lot disappointed to learn that MLB decided to pull the All-Star Game from the county,” Sheffield said. “We have suffered quite a bit, as everyone has, with COVID. Our Cobb tourism, that’s one of the greater revenues that we have in the county.”

Sheffield went on to criticize the “unsettling” provisions of Senate Bill 202, including its ban on outside groups distributing food and water to voters in line, adding that she hopes the corporate backlash to the bill disincentivizes future voting restrictions.

On a related note, a Fox News headline garnering quite a bit of attention in Republican circles this week declared: “MLB commissioner decided to move All-Star Game after pressure from Stacey Abrams on voting issues: sources.”

The report, which did not name the sources, said MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred chose to move the game from Cobb to Colorado "after holding extensive discussions with voting rights groups associated with Lebron James, Stacey Abrams and Rev. Al Sharpton ...”

Stacey Abrams

According to Fox News, Abrams wanted Manfred to denounce the new voting law, prompting Manfred to think the game would be turned into a political event boycotted by players. 

“Manfred decided the easiest way to deal with the matter was to leave Georgia, according to a source," Fox reports. 

CANDIDATE FOR THE 6TH: U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, has a new challenger, freshly shaved and ready for 2022.

Harold Earls, former commander of the Guard for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery and a 9th generation Georgian, has thrown his hat in the ring to challenge her. 

Earls also touts himself as self-made social media influencer.

“They (the Earls family) have a popular YouTube channel, Earls Family Vlogs, with more than a million followers across multiple platforms, where they share their daily life and faith as a family,” a news release from his team reads.

A deciding factor on who wins that race will be how the General Assembly redraws the lines during redistricting in a special session later this year, according to Cobb GOP Chair Jason Shepherd. 

“The likelihood is the General Assembly is going to look at the two congressional districts that flipped from red to blue, the 6th and 7th, and one of them will be made much more Republican and one of them will be made much more Democratic,” he said. 

Shepherd said the portion of the 6th District that’s in DeKalb County is what gives McBath her edge now. Whether the Republican leadership in the General Assembly choose to put more Republicans in McBath’s district or in the 7th, held by U.S Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Gwinnett County, remains to be seen.

GOP BREAKFAST: Gov. Brian Kemp will speak at the Cobb GOP breakfast on Saturday. It’s a nice book end for Shepherd’s last meeting as party chair. Kemp spoke at Shepherd's first meeting as chair when Kemp announced his run for governor of Georgia.

The term-limited Shepherd is running for state party chair in the state GOP convention on June 5.

Meanwhile, there are three candidates who are vying to replace him at the county convention a week from Saturday: Dr. Lisa Adkins of Kennesaw, first vice chair for the 11th Congressional District; Pamela Alayon of east Cobb, the Cobb GOP's vice chair of membership; and Salleigh Grubbs of Marietta, who runs a manufacturing-related company in Fulton County. There are more than 500 delegates who will have the opportunity to select one of the three women at the April 17 convention. 

“I think it’s a toss up," Shepherd said. "I’m pretty confident that it’s going to go to a second ballot with no one getting 50% plus one on the first one. People have been trying to handicap it, but all three candidates have been able to build pretty strong coalitions."

EVICTIONS AND THE SHERIFF: When the MDJ last checked on the evictions situation in Cobb in early January, there were some 800 on the docket. That number has jumped to about 1,800 as of the end of March, according to Cobb County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Saba Long.

A Centers for Disease Control-issued eviction moratorium has effectively put a stop to hardship-based evictions. For the most part, those who are behind on rent because they've lost income due to the pandemic are protected, though the amount they owe grows with each passing month. Activists have repeatedly warned of an incoming eviction tsunami that will occur when the moratorium expires, although that day has been repeatedly delayed, and is now scheduled for the end of June. 

Michael Register, the sheriff's chief of staff, explained the role their office plays in evictions in a recent interview with the MDJ. 

“The sheriff’s office is involved in the eviction process by going out and serving the writ,” Register said. “I hope no one thinks that anybody in the sheriff’s office takes any pleasure in going out and doing an eviction. … From the sheriff on down, it just happens to be part of the mission set for the (office). They go out, they … serve the writ, and they do it with compassion, but they also ensure after the writ is served that the eviction process proceeds in an orderly and safe manner.”

Craig Owens

Sheriff Craig Owens told the MDJ the manner in which evictions are carried out has implications for his office.

“What’s the last impression these families are going to have, (who’s) the last person they see? It’s the sheriff’s office,” he said. "Now, in these young kids, and these teenagers that we … may unfortunately have to evict, the stigma they have against us from that point is nothing but negativity … (If) we’re putting mom and dad out of the house and your furniture’s sitting on the side of the street, the last thing we need is a deputy standing there as you’re doing that. That’s the last thought they’re going to have … They’re not going to like us from that point.”

Owens floated some ideas, like distributing gift cards to the families they evict or finding them a storage unit where they can keep their property for a couple days while they figure things out.

Long floated others.

“Having that many people evicted is also a public safety concern, so he has been very particular, the sheriff has, around making sure that eviction groups are engaged on the eviction side of the process. Is there a church that you can go to? Is there housing that can be provided for a couple of days while you figure out … next steps? Are there job opportunities?”

Craig Owens

On Saturday, we told you Cobb Sheriff Craig Owens said there was “no transition” after he bested former Sheriff Neil Warren in November; Warren and his attorney, in turn, said they bent over backward to meet the incoming administration’s demands.

Neil Warren

We went back to Owens to see what he had to say in light of Warren’s response. On Monday, his attorney, Chris Twyman, responded.

Twyman said he, Owens and Owens’ second-in-command, Rhonda Anderson, did indeed meet with Warren’s attorney, Nathan Wade, and Chief Deputy Sonya Allen after the election.

“During this lunch meeting on November 8, 2020, Wade and Chief Deputy Allen pledged full cooperation for a transition,” Twyman said.

After that meeting, Owens requested “access to certain records to review as part of his transition to office, including existing vendor contracts, Sheriff’s Department’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), contracts with third-party vendors, as well as a summary of pending litigation matters. The Owens transition did receive access to the food services agreements, medical services agreements, the memorandum of understanding between the Cobb Sheriff’s Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Warren’s policy of promotions.” But, Twyman continued, “Warren’s team did not share all information, documents, and briefings requested by Owens. ... Owens did not receive a summary of pending litigation (nor a briefing on the same) and did not receive any briefings on issues requiring his immediate attention upon assuming office. Importantly, Warren did not personally contact Owens at any time during the transition.”

Twyman also noted that Owens was not given access to the executive suite “to begin his move-in preparation.”

Wade acknowledged this in an interview with AT last week, but attributed the lack of access to Warren’s lengthy move-out — he’d been sheriff since 2003, after all — and emotions were running high in the suite, which was staffed by Warren’s leadership team, many of whom were nervous about losing their jobs.

On that front, Twyman notes Owens had actually drafted a letter meant, in part, “to allay the fears of some staff members that they would all lose their respective jobs.”

“When Owens heard of this sentiment among existing staff, he prepared the letter and requested that Warren disseminate the letter to all staff. Warren refused to send the letter to the department’s staff.”

MARK YOUR CALENDAR ... for 8 a.m. Thursday, May 6, when the Cobb County Prayer Breakfast is scheduled to return. The Prayer Breakfast has been a much-anticipated event in Cobb since it launched in 1985. It took a pandemic to interrupt the annual event’s consecutive run of 34 years. The 2020 breakfast was initially postponed last year from May to August. Amid the unrelenting scourge of the coronavirus, the event was eventually canceled. This year’s version will be virtual. The 2021 event is being co-chaired by Scott Gregory and Andrew Egan. Stay tuned for details as May 6 approaches.

CANDIDACY: In a tribute to the late Annette Lewis Saturday, Marietta Councilwoman Cheryl Richardson said that it would have been Lewis’ 66th birthday.

Annette Lewis

Lewis served on the Marietta school board from 1994 to 2005 before moving on to the Marietta City Council, were she served from 2006 to 2013. She died in 2018 due to complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“She was a good friend and mentor to me, and I miss her every day,” Richardson wrote. “Four years ago, when I decided to run for Councilwoman of Ward 1, Annette was the first person I told. She was in my corner every day, providing good counsel and support.

“So today, on her birthday, I am announcing that I am seeking re-election. I hope that I have served the residents of Ward 1, specifically, and all of the residents of Marietta, compassionately, fairly and always with the best interests of the great city of Marietta in mind.

“I look forward to all that the rest of this year/term brings as we emerge from the pandemic. And hope to continue to serve you all in the future.”

Cheryl Richardson

The mayor and all seven City Council members are up for reelection on Nov. 2.

CITYHOOD TOWN HALL: On April 14, East Cobb cityhood backers will host a virtual town hall to address questions and spread the word about their quest to form a municipality.

Hosted by state Rep. Matt Dollar, R-east Cobb, and other East Cobb Cityhood Committee members, the invitation is extended to all 50,000 to 60,000 of the Cobb Countians who would live within the borders of the new city. The proposed boundaries stretch from Shallowford Road in the north, to the Chattahoochee River in the south.

Dollar and the other committee members have pitched the plan as a “city-lite,” which would control its own zoning, parks, and code enforcement, and say the city is intended to preserve “the community feel, nature, safety, everything.”

Registration for the virtual event is available at, and a recording will be available after the meeting.

GREEK TO ME: Opa! After being canceled last year due to COVID-19, the Marietta Greek Festival is back, albeit in drive-thru fashion.

This year’s festival is May 14-16 at Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church at 3431 Trickum Road. The full schedule is: Friday, May 14 from 4 to 8 p.m., Saturday, May 15 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 16 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Attendees are asked to mask up and stay in their car. On offer are homemade Greek food, music and entertainment — dancing, music from The George Kara band — in the church’s parking lot.

SPEAKER CIRCUIT: Jake Evans, a partner with Holland & Knight and chair of the Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, is the keynote speaker at Saturday’s Cobb GOP breakfast.

Jake Evans

The breakfast will also be streamed on the GOP’s Facebook page. Doors open at 8 a.m. The program begins at 8:30 a.m. The breakfast is at Cobb GOP headquarters, 799 Roswell Street, Marietta. ...

At the April 14 meeting of the South Cobb Area Council of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, Dale Kaetzel with Six Flags Over Georgia; Jeremy Strife with The Battery Atlanta; Holly Quinlan with Cobb Travel & Tourism; and Jason Gaines with the Cobb County government will participate in a tourism panel, speaking about new attractions and sites in the Austell/Powder Springs communities. The meeting begins at 11:30 a.m. at Riverside EpiCenter, 135 Riverside Parkway, Austell.

Your tax money at work: East Cobb’s Larry Savage, a former candidate for commission chairman, made the following observation about the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area:

“At the Cochran Shoals trail in the CRNRA, there is a parking lot at each end as well as a nice restroom building. Conventional drinking fountains have been replaced with new high-tech models that include a station for refilling plastic drink bottles. There is a digital display that keeps track of the number of plastic bottles not thrown away because of refilling.

“At one restroom location (west end), the drinking fountain with the digital bottle filler doesn’t work, but you can still drink from the regular drinking fountain next to it.

Larry Savage

“At the east parking lot, the drinking apparatus is 100% non-functional. No drinking water. The digital display for bottle refills has been displaying the same number forever.

“The National Park Service is part of the Department of the Interior of the Government of the United States of America.”

WELCOME TO BEIJING: “The Babylon Bee” had some fun with the corporate meltdown underway over Georgia’s new voting law in a headline titled “Georgia Hangs Up ‘Welcome To Beijing’ Signs To Trick Liberal Companies Into Staying.”

According to the facetious report in The Bee: “Georgia has hung up signs at all entrances to the state reading ‘Welcome to Beijing,’ cleverly disguising the state as the capital of Communist China. The ploy was designed to trick liberal companies threatening to boycott into staying and doing business in the state.”

Babylon Bee goes on to report: “Major League Baseball has confirmed the All-Star game will be held in the new ‘Beijing’ as well, having moved it out of the hateful state of Georgia and into this utopian wonderland where elections are always 100% equitable, with each vote counting exactly as much as every other vote.”