Thursday, December 5, 2019
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The head of Cobb County’s Fraternal Order of Police lodge created a stir last week when he announced on the lodge’s Facebook page that he was working with retiring Maj. Craig Owens in his campaign to be elected sheriff next year.

The county website lists Owens as commander of Cobb Police Precinct 2, which includes the areas of Austell, Mableton, and Powder Springs. Owens has been employed with the police department since 1989.

“This campaign is not about being a Democrat or Republican, it’s about making things better for the outstanding men & women who work for the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office,” Steve Gaynor, president of Cobb County’s Fraternal Order of Police Kermit Sanders Lodge 13, posted on the lodge’s Facebook page. “The problems at the Sheriff’s Department have been ignored for way (too) long and it’s time for change. So please watch for our kickoff meet & greet fundraiser at the beginning of December.”

Gaynor went on to post that he was looking for good places to put up campaign signs around Cobb. He ended the post with: “Please join with me in welcoming and supporting Craig Owens as your new Cobb County Sheriff.”

Some people commented below the post that they would be supporting Sheriff Neil Warren.

“I have nothing against Craig but I for one will be supporting Sheriff Neil Warren and I live in Cobb. I vote here,” wrote one.

Replied Gaynor: “Warren’s time is over, he has failed to move forward into the future and has refused to address the serious issues facing the Sheriff’s Office. The old ways of doing things are long over and the ‘good olde boy’ way of managing is no longer acceptable. I have been in the trenches fighting for the men & women of Cobb County Public Safety for many years and he has refused to join the fight for his people. I like Neil as a person, but he should realize it’s time for change.”

Another commenter inquired as to the appropriateness of the post.

“Steve, do you believe it’s appropriate to use the Official Facebook Page of Lodge 13 to endorse a candidate who you are personally working for?” one person wrote.

Gaynor replied by saying, “Not endorsing a candidate only announcing that I am working on this campaign. However as we move into the April/May time frame the Lodge will ask all Candidates to speak at our meeting for possible endorsement.”

His post also drew out private investigator Jimmy Herndon of east Cobb, a former sergeant with the sheriff’s office who is running a scorched earth campaign against Warren in his effort to succeed him.

Herndon, a Democrat, complained to Gaynor that “in all fairness, declaring him as ‘your new Cobb county Sheriff’ as the president of the FOP sure seems like a pretty solid endorsement by you, at least to me. I must have received 50 messages when you posted that. I’ve been running for a few months as you know and you’ve not shared the work I’ve been doing to show how Warren really runs his office.”

Gaynor told the MDJ he wasn’t interested in endorsing Herndon, given “baggage” relating to his acrimonious departure from the sheriff’s office.

The day after his initial Facebook post, Gaynor made another, explaining that his previous one had generated a few questions from lodge members, a group with more than 700 members.

“Yesterday’s statement was NOT a Lodge 13 endorsement, but a statement from the Lodge President that I am taking steps that I believe will help Cobb County Public Safety,” Gaynor wrote. “Craig Owens is a LIFE Member (over 20 years of membership) and believes in the actions we have been taking for months to get the attention of the commissioners. Our next Lodge meeting is next Wednesday at 1630 if any member would like to come address the membership. Until then as the CEO/President of this Lodge I will continue to fight for the majority of the members who have voiced their safety concerns for more than a year.”

Gaynor said Owens will kick off his campaign Dec. 12 at an event in Austell.

AT asked Warren if he cared to respond to Gaynor’s Facebook posts. He did not.

The primary is May 19. The election is November 3.


JAILHOUSE BLUES: The situation in the Cobb County jail has led Marietta Councilman Reggie Copeland to question whether the city ought to be sending its prisoners there.

The city’s Public Safety Committee, which Copeland chairs, voted 3-0 last week to extend the city’s contract with the sheriff’s office to house inmates. The 20-year contract is set to expire at the end of the year unless the City Council approves a seven-year extension.

Under it, the city pays a certain amount to the county to house inmates. The current rate is $69 per inmate per day, or $25,185 per year, according to the contract. A new rate is determined at the start of each new year, but the cost per inmate cannot increase by more than 3% per year.

Copeland, who has first-hand experience in the detention center, said recent reports about deaths in the jail have him worried.

“How much liability do we have as joint signers?” he asked. “In particular because since Jan. 1 of this year, there have been six deaths in the jail. There are several citizens who have called me, I don’t have the answers to it, but I’m kind of hesitant to go too much further with this, personally.”

Copeland’s numbers are accurate, according to numbers from the sheriff. In addition, the MDJ mailroom has been flooded with letters from inmates in recent months describing a monthslong lockdown where they say they have been unable to leave their cells for days on end, even to shower.

The ACLU has expressed interest in what’s going on there, hitting the sheriff with an open records request late last month.

City manager Bill Bruton said whatever goes on behind the jail’s walls, Marietta is not liable.

“In general, once we hand over one of our inmates or individuals who have been arrested to one of the jails, they have responsibility and liability,” he said. “We have responsibility to transport and bring them over there, but the minute we transfer them to them, they’ve got responsibility.”

City attorney Doug Haynie concurred.

“This commitment neither increases nor decreases the city’s liability,” he said. “The city and the county have sovereign immunity. I would say to you that the city has no liability under this. I read what you’re talking about as far as how the jail is run by the sheriff, but I see that does not carry over any liability to the city of Marietta.”

That was good enough for Copeland, who voted to approve the extension along with the other two committee members, Councilman Johnny Walker and Councilwoman Cheryl Richardson.


CITYHOOD: A select few east Cobb residents continue to quarrel over whether the community could become a financially viable municipality, trading insults among former friends.

East Cobb residents Shailesh Bettadapur, Bill Dennis, Bill Green, Russ Morrisett and Ken Pollock formed a team earlier this year called the Independent Finance Group to crunch the numbers relating to east Cobb cityhood.

They started out in agreement — that a paid university study on east Cobb cityhood needed fact-checking.

But by September, when the group was ready to publicly release its findings, Bettadapur broke ranks, left the team and denounced its 4-1 majority conclusion.

Green, Dennis, Morrisett and Pollock decided east Cobb, as a city, could offer its residents lower taxes than they currently pay to the county for various services, including policing.

Bettadapur didn’t agree, as he recently explained to the MDJ.

Bettadapur also accused Green of falsely asserting that his being married to Cobb Democratic Party Chair Jacquelyn Bettadapur had something to do with his leaving the group.

“I can say without hesitation that Mr. Green’s assertion is false,” Bettadapur told the MDJ for an article that was published on the front page of Sunday’s edition.

“Shailesh on front page today. Same antics. I’m a liar,” Green texted MDJ reporter Rosie Manins on Sunday afternoon.

“A city couldn’t possibly cut taxes because it would have to take on a police force with no new revenue transfer,” Green texted. “He’s pushing the non-starter non-compliance scenario. I would vote no, too, if I thought a new city would do something that stupid.”

Whether east Cobb becomes an incorporated city within Cobb County will be determined by public vote during an election referendum, if the case for cityhood makes it that far.

There’s been no small amount of confusion over exactly who Steve Rasin has endorsed in the runoff to succeed retiring Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon.

Of the 7,918 votes cast in the five candidate race for mayor on Nov. 5, Smyrna Councilman Derek Norton received 47.04%, Ryan Campbell received 24.79%, Rasin received 21.92%, Laura Mireles received 4.9% and Alex Backry received 1.26%. As no one obtained more than 50 percent of the vote, it triggered a December 3 runoff between Norton, who has been endorsed by Bacon, and Campbell, darling of the Cobb Democrat Party, despite this being a nonpartisan race.

The endorsement confusion began after Campbell told the MDJ earlier this month that Rasin had endorsed him for mayor, a statement that generated a quick rebuttal from Rasin, who said he had endorsed no one.

The plot thickened last week when Norton’s campaign announced that in fact Rasin had endorsed Norton for mayor.

That announcement prompted an email to the MDJ from the Campbell campaign:

“Attached please find the link to Mr. Raisin’s endorsement of Smyrna Mayoral candidate, Ryan Campbell at Mr. Raisin’s election night …” the Campbell campaign wrote in its email, linking to a video of Rasin saying he would support Campbell. (Despite accepting that endorsement, the campaign did not take the time to learn how to spell Mr. Rasin’s name.)

“Yesterday (Friday, Nov. 22), Steve Rasin did a 180-degree flip flop and formally endorsed my opponent. My platform hasn’t changed, my ideas haven’t changed, nor have my opponents. Smyrna voters are smart. I will leave it to the voters to decide what happened. Backroom deals have no place in Smyrna government. I will always be transparent, consistent, and ethical in my dealings as Mayor of Smyrna. Our city deserves nothing less. All the best, Ryan For Smyrna Campaign.”

In the video, Rasin says, “Do not despair. I’m going to support Ryan in whatever he has to do to beat Derek Norton. We can’t have another Max in office. That’s not an option.”

What to make of this confusion? Around Town rang Rasin to inquire.

“The true story is this: On the night of the campaign, in the midst of all the excitement or disappointment or whatever, I said that I would try to — not endorse, but support the Ryan Campbell campaign for mayor that came out on that video,” Rasin explained.

As it happened, a woman recorded him saying that and dispatched that recording to Campbell before he got a chance to properly talk with Campbell about the matter, Rasin said.

“After that party, I called him on the phone and I told him that I was going to need a couple of days to figure out what I needed to do,” Rasin said.

Meanwhile, the Campbell campaign took the video footage as an endorsement, hence Campbell’s call to the MDJ saying as much.

Rasin said it took him a couple weeks to figure out what he wanted to do, and decided to sit down with both candidates.

After a second meeting, he decided to endorse Norton for mayor.

From his talks with Norton, he came away with the belief that while they didn’t agree on everything, Norton was someone who would listen to what he had to say.

“I got no such feeling when I talked to Ryan about some of the decisions that he made,” Rasin said. “In all honesty, part of the reason I think Derek would do a better job as mayor is Ryan is young. I hate to put any labels on, but he’s of the millennial age — they want things now. I think that in time Ryan would probably do a good job as mayor. I just don’t think he’s ready and I told him as much. I said, ‘It’s not your time yet. I don’t think you’re prepared. You haven’t lived long enough to understand the kind of decisions you’re going to make and the ramifications of those decisions.’ So we went over all of that stuff.”

As for Campbell’s insinuation of some kind of backroom deal, Rasin dismissed this as false.

Rasin said the fact is he and Campbell both discussed their political plans before either announced their candidacy.

“And I did not want to have two African American men running for the same job in the city of Smyrna, because if you’re familiar with African American voters, it’s hard to get them to come out to vote unless there’s a super big reason why,” Rasin said. “We talked about that. I was going to run for mayor and Ryan was going to run for another office in the county.”

When Campbell called Rasin to tell him he was running for mayor also, Rasin said he was flabbergasted.

“His reason was he had always wanted to be mayor of Smyrna. Now I’m 67 years old. When somebody 26 tells me they’ve always wanted to do something I’m not exactly sure what that means. So he’s anxious. He’s impetuous. I think he’s an intelligent individual but he told me he wasn’t going to do it and then he said he did.”

Had they stuck to their original agreement, the race may have turned out differently, Rasin said.

Rasin, a graduate of the Naval Academy, said if Campbell had done something like that at Annapolis, he wouldn’t be there for long.

“They don’t put up with that sort of thing,” he said.

Ultimately, Smyrnans will have the last say when they determine whether to choose Norton or Campbell on Dec. 3.


MOBILITY: At last week’s “mobility summit” organized by the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, Chris Tomlinson, head of three different state agencies, praised the Northwest Corridor Express lanes that opened last year.

Monday morning, a Georgia Department of Transportation spokesperson went into more detail during an MDJ reporter’s visit to the organization’s “Transportation Management Center.”

“The impact that that has had on congestion in that corridor — it’s almost indescribable,” said Scott Higley, GDOT’s director of strategic communications.

Those who can afford to use the express lanes spend 30% less time on the road than those using the general lanes, he said.

But that’s to be expected.

“The great news about the express lanes is, everybody wins,” Higley said.

Traffic in the general lanes is moving 20 miles per hour faster than it was before the lanes opened, he said.

“The State Road and Tollway Authority or the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority was telling us that they were having problems with maintaining their bus schedules for their regional express bus service because the buses were arriving significantly earlier to their stops than they were before,” he said.

More of those lanes are coming, “and that’s exciting,” Higley said. “Especially when your city is the poster child for traffic congestion, right up there with Los Angeles and the greater New York area.”

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PAYING IT FORWARD: Jay Cunningham, owner of Superior Plumbing, has long donated Thanksgiving food or cooked for members of the community, according to company spokesperson Tina Myers.

Myers says 22 years ago, Cunningham and his family began cooking for and serving everyone at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston in Druid Hills. Cunningham still donates the food needed for that tradition, which will probably feed around 1,000 people this year.

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This year Cunningham offered to buy his employees full Publix Thanksgiving dinners — complete with a turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes and even a pie from Honeysuckle Biscuits and Bakery in Kennesaw. The gift didn’t stop with the staff. Meyers said 21 out of the 53 Superior Plumbing employees who were to receive a free Thanksgiving dinner asked if they could donate their meal to families in need. Those meals have been given to school social workers and nonprofit organizations to deliver.

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Others were hand-delivered to needy families by the employee who decided to make the donation. One donation was delivered Monday to the Cobb firefighters at Station 24, who will be working the Thanksgiving shift, and multiple were part of the Cobb Mental Health Court’s Tuesday Thanksgiving feast.

“All the employees are aware of how generous (Cunningham) is,” Myers said, while wrapping a donated dinner to be taken to a group of Cobb schools social workers for distribution to a needy family. “The culture that he’s created by just doing has just spread to his employees. It’s really a cool thing.”


HAPPY TURKEY DAY: “The turkey. The sweet potatoes. The stuffing. The pumpkin pie. Is there anything else we all can agree so vehemently about? I don’t think so,” says Nora Ephron.

Around Town wishes you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving. We will return next Wednesday.

Former U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, R-Roswell, is having a good week.

An endorsement by U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson in the race to represent Georgia’s 6th Congressional District earlier this week was followed by endorsements from U.S. Sen. David Perdue and Gov. Brian Kemp.

Handel, who narrowly lost her seat in Congress to Democrat Lucy McBath in 2018 by just under 3,000 votes, is hoping for a rematch in the Nov. 3 general election, but first must win the May 19 general primary.

Kemp said Handel is hard-working and has a track record of service and bold leadership.

“Like Sens. Isakson and Perdue, I am proud to support Karen and know she will work diligently to advance policies that continue our economic growth, preserve freedom, enhance public safety and lower health care costs for American families,” Kemp said.

Handel said she is grateful for Kemp’s support as well as the endorsement from Perdue and Isakson.

“I look forward to working with him while in Congress on behalf of the people of GA6,” Handel said of Kemp, adding that 2020 is “too important” to lose.

“We must work together to ensure President (Donald) Trump and Sen. Perdue are reelected,” Handel said.

Perdue said Handel is a “fighter” who works hard on the campaign trail and in Congress.

“She is tough and tenacious and has exactly what it takes to represent the people of GA6 and win this seat,” he said. “She brings her business experience to the issues in Congress to work for commonsense solutions that matter to the hardworking families here in Georgia.”

The endorsements came after state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, announced last week he was stepping down as a candidate. Beach was followed by Republican candidate Nicole Rodden of Vinings, who dropped out on account of a lack of funds.

Still at it is Marjorie Taylor Green, owner of Alpharetta-based Taylor Commercial, who seems to be rattled, given that she has stepped up her attacks on Handel on social media, calling her the “the poster child for the Never Trump movement.”


AFFORDABLE HOUSING: “I don’t feel badly that we got hung out,” Pete Waldrep, executive director of the Marietta Housing Authority, said recently. “What I hate more than anything is, we’re the only people building affordable housing in Cobb County.”

At the Nov. 13 meeting of the MHA’s board, its first since a controversy that ultimately nixed an expansion of the McEachern Village senior housing complex in Powder Springs, Waldrep explained to his bosses what went wrong.

The MHA was enacted by state law rather than a county ordinance. Among the privileges that confers is the MHA’s ability to build what it wants, where it wants, zoning be damned. But the developers — the MHA and the nonprofit Beverly J. Searles Foundation — were seeking tax-exempt bonds, and for that, they needed, sought and were denied county commissioners’ approval, a first.

“Obviously it’s the first time we’ve ever been turned down,” Waldrep told MHA commissioners. “I think we just got caught in the middle of a political battle.”

But he said the future of “phase one,” the portion already under construction, is bright. One of the MHA’s partners has a waiting list of more than 800 people on one of its other subsidized projects, many of whom it will direct to McEachern.

Tellingly, Waldrep used the phrase “phase one” to describe the portion under construction, despite the fact that county commissioners shot down “phase 2” last month.

The MHA still owns 7.5 acres of undeveloped land there, and hasn’t given up on putting something on that land, Waldrep said. Yet he disagreed with one suggestion apparently floated by county Chairman Mike Boyce.

“He said, you guys just need to go ahead and build it. You don’t have to come back to us,” Waldrep recalled with a laugh, saying that was the former Marine in Boyce talking.

Waldrep said the MHA could build 15 houses there “without asking anybody anything,” given the way the land is currently zoned. But right now, his priority is finishing construction of phase one.

They are, however, eyeing another spot. A patch of land beside the Bojangles’ on Powder Springs Road and across from the Walmart will have a public hearing Dec. 17, Waldrep said, although he did not share any details about the plan.


VACCINATIONS: MDJ reporter Rosie Manins was labeled a “pro-vaxxer” this week by an irate reader in relation to an article about the current Cobb measles outbreak.

The email, from a north Cobb mother called “Mary Jane,” claimed Manins’ article included pro-vaccine information that is being used to brainwash medical school students and the wider public by the “evil genius” big pharma for profit.

Jane’s 3,300-word rant claimed this federal money-making scheme is at the expense of children who are being poisoned by the “toxic chemicals” in vaccines.

She’s angry at doctors, the pharmaceutical and medical industries, pro-vaxxers and the media, as well as Mabry Middle School and the Cobb County School District — the latter two for telling unvaccinated students to stay home until the contamination risk at the campus ends, following confirmation that a student there had the measles.

Labeling Manins’ article “bogus, ridiculous, outrageous, irresponsible and 100% inaccurate,” Jane said Manins “should be very sickly, or possibly not even alive” given her pro-vaxxer status.

“Why don’t you get seven vaccines all at once, like so many precious babies receive (and then die)?,” Jane wrote to Manins. “Get jabbed with poison against the measles. See if you will be able to continue to do your job without getting very sick!”

Jane followed this, after some lengthy exposition about immunity and gene mutations, with “while you’re at it, get caught up with the rest of the 50, 60 or 70 vaccines that you never received in your childhood!”

Explaining the real reason pro-vaxxers’ children don’t get sick is “sheer luck” and an absence of said gene mutations, Jane added she is upset her three children received some vaccinations before she saw through her doctor’s lies and put a stop to their suffering. “Unfortunately, one of them is fully vaccinated,” she bemoaned.

Jane finished her epistle by urging Manins to “apologize to those poor parents for your ignorance regarding this matter” and announcing her plans to pray that “outrageous articles, such as this one, will NEVER get published ever again.”

The correspondence got Manins thinking.

Born in New Zealand in 1986, she has been immunized against polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis A and B, tetanus, diphtheria, meningitis, chickenpox and influenza — taking as many as three needles for each, and up to four in the same arm at a time.

“I feel fine,” Manins said Friday.

Perhaps it is her thick skin as a 14-year journalist, although getting told to “get seven vaccines and die” is a first.

Or perhaps the information in Manins’ article, from the Georgia Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, wasn’t as “despicable” as Jane claimed after all.

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UNVEILING: Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price had his portrait unveiled in Washington this week, his wife, Dr. Betty Price shared on her Facebook page.

“Many former colleagues and employees were teary eyed as Tom expressed his appreciation for their dedication and exemplary work. We were especially touched that they presented him with his former cabinet chair,” Betty Price wrote.

She said the portrait would be hung in the front entrance of the HHS headquarters building.

Andy Morris

The next time you go to a concert in Glover Park, leave the stakes and surveyor’s tape at home.

Marietta Councilman Andy Morris has struck a blow against egregious dibs-seekers at the city’s Glover Park Concert Series when they start up again next year.

To say the free Marietta Square concerts have been popular would be an understatement. The series, which takes place the last Friday of each month during the warm time of year draws crowds of up to 10,000 to downtown Marietta.

That means getting a good seat isn’t easy. Tables are available for purchase starting at 8 a.m. on the first business day of the month, but these sell out in a snap, leaving everyone else to jockey for position on the Glover Park lawn.

Some music fans resort to drastic measures to secure a primo spot. Morris said he’s gotten complaints of folks setting up camp over 12 hours before the concert starts. Some set up lawn chairs or blankets, but a minority drive stakes into the ground and rope off their spot with surveyor’s tape, Morris said.

Back in August, Morris asked Rich Buss, Marietta’s parks and recreation director, to look into ways to stop dibs-seekers, and the council unanimously approved his plan last week.

Under it, festival-goers would still be allowed to come early with chairs and blankets, but if you try to physically rope off an area, you’ll get your rope thrown away by parks staff.

“If you physically have a chair and a blanket there, that’s one thing, but to physically cordon off an entire area, we could remove that, and we’ll put sandwich boards at the entrance to the park that it’s clear that you can’t do that,” he said at the October committee meeting where the plan was introduced.

Buss said this might be a problem unique to Marietta. Parks staff spoke with 17 other cities to see how they handle it – two have gates and charge admission to their concerts and the other 15 said they haven’t had a problem with people tying off spaces.

“It’s not something that anybody could really give us any advice on how to manage it differently than we are,” Buss said.

Buss said staff considered a number of other options, including hiring an off-duty officer to confiscate chairs set up there, but the police department did not like that idea.

“In talking to the police, they weren’t overly excited about it because once they do that and seize it, it becomes evidence, they’ve got to log it as evidence, they’ve got to give it to the evidence room, if there’s no name on it, you don’t know who it belongs to,” he said.

Buss said parks staff wouldn’t be required to hang onto confiscated rope or stakes, and that plan would not require an officer to be pulled off the beat or the expense of hiring an off-duty officer.

“That’s a good answer for me to start with and see if it helps,” Morris said.

Councilwoman Michelle Cooper Kelly, who chairs the city’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Committee, agreed.

“I support not having the tape and the stakes and all that stuff,” she said. “I think that you make it a little bit more difficult for people to come out and hoard a whole area. They have to have a lot of people, if they want to do it and they get there first with their whole posse, then they’re fine. I think that’s a good compromise.”

The new rule is set to take effect for the 2020 concert series.


And another one bites the dust: Following last week’s announcement by state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, that he was bowing out of the race to challenge U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, another Republican challenger says she too is throwing in the towel.

Nicole Rodden

Brandon Beach

Nicole Rodden of Vinings cited a lack of funds for her decision.

“It became evident to our team that without the proper resources to spread our own campaign message, we had no positive pathway to the general election,” Rodden said in a statement.

It didn’t help her that she didn’t live in the district she was campaigning to represent in the Congress, either.

“I ran for Congress because I believed, and still believe, I am the best Republican candidate to take on Congressman Lucy McBath, but I refuse to negatively attack fellow Republicans for six months in order to get there. I am not afraid of a fight or contrast, but I believe in the importance of integrity and common sense,” she said in a statement.

Rodden could be referring to another challenger in the Republican primary, Marjorie Taylor Green, owner of Alpharetta-based Taylor Commercial, a construction company.

Green has used her social media platform to trash her Republican opponents in the race, taking special aim at frontrunner Karen Handel, who McBath ousted in 2018 by just under 3,000 votes.

Majorie Taylor Greene

Handel, meanwhile, received some good news this week with the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia.

Karen Handel

“Karen Handel is one of the hardest-working people I know,” Isakson said in a statement. “Karen has proven time and again that she is a problem solver who focuses on results rather than politics. In Congress, she established herself as a leader on the issues we care about — reducing taxes and helping small businesses; combating the opioid crisis; protecting those with pre-existing conditions and expanding health care options for all. Karen Handel is who I trust to represent us in Congress, and I’m proud to support Karen to be our next representative for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.”


APPOINTMENTS: Cobb school board member Dr. Jaha Howard has appointed Yashira Willis of Smyrna to the Cobb County School District’s Facilities and Technology Committee. Willis serves as an English for Speakers of Other Languages specialist at Teasley Elementary School in Smyrna. … Gov. Brian Kemp has appointed one of his floor leaders, state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, to the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Commission.


ON TOUR: Speaking of Reeves, he and state Reps. Teri Anulewicz and Erick Allen, both D-Smyrna, are in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Reeves texted Around Town from Tokyo to say they are representing Georgia at the invitation of the Japan Foundation, a Japanese entity that hosts exchange programs with business partners for Japan all over the world.

“Right now, there are well over 600 Japanese companies who do business in Georgia, of which companies employ over 40,000 Georgians. Japan is one of Georgia’s top trading partners in the world,” he said. “We are here meeting with business organizations and representatives from Japanese companies to build relationships to continue to encourage the growth of Japanese business investments in Georgia.”

Reeves said more than 20 Japanese companies have operations in Cobb County.

As for allegations that this could be described as a junket, Reeves was quick to point out that no U.S. or Georgia tax dollars were used to fund the trip.

State Rep. Teri Anulewicz, D-Smyrna, presents a Braves hat to Nakayama Norihiro, the Japanese Parliamentary Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, on a trip she’s on with several other Cobb legislators.

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Reuben Green

SPEAKER CIRCUIT: Cobb Superior Court Chief Judge Reuben Green is the keynote speaker at the Cobb Republican Women’s Club luncheon at 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Marietta Conference Center.

Green is advertised to be speaking on issues impacting veterans.

While he’s at it, a wag wondered if he would also speak to the matter of why his court administrator, Tom Charron, convinced the Cobb Board of Commissioners to award the judges illegal raises. He could also address why his judges get to take advantage of the county’s pension benefits, but don’t have to pay into the county’s pension fund, a practice that has come under fire.

But back to to the program. The luncheon will be a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and veterans are invited for a discounted rate of $16.

For more information, visit the organization’s website at www.ccrwc.org.

Democrat Commissioner Lisa Cupid, who is running for chair of the Cobb Board of Commissioners in the May 19 primary, called for the various parts of the county to unify for the good of all during a fundraiser this week at Justin O’Dell’s Marietta law firm, O’Dell & O’Neal.

“No one that ascends into leadership can do this on their own,” Cupid said. “The host committee that was named, these are people that I look up to and that have served Cobb County diligently, and I am so happy to have served Cobb County diligently with them and with so many of you who are here from Leadership Cobb to community organizations that are in the district and so many different roles we’ve worked together to make sure Cobb County can be the best that it can be.”

The host committee she referenced included such names as former Gov. Roy Barnes, former U.S. Rep. Buddy Darden, D-Marietta; former State Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna; state Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Sandy Springs; state Rep. Teri Anulewicz, D-Smyrna and Cobb school board member David Morgan.

Cupid critics were quick to point out that another name to appear on some invitations but not others was Jonathan Page, who ran a highly negative campaign against Commissioner Bob Ott in 2016, a tactic that backfired when Ott cleaned his clock with 67% of the vote. Asked why Page was listed as part of the host committee on some invites but not on others, Cupid said while Page was a friend, it was simply an error that his name was listed.

In her talk to supporters, Cupid said if there’s anything that she’s been committed to it’s that the county is stronger when everyone comes together.

“We are such a stronger county when we come together and work together that regardless of whether we are on the south side, the north side, the east side or the west side, we all want a strong county, a thriving county that we can live and raise our families and do business in.”

Cupid said she came out as a strong advocate for District 4, but learned that the desires of her district are not different from anyone else’s in Cobb.

“We just have some catching up to do,” she said. “I’m not here for myself but to be an advocate for everyone. To be an advocate for those that don’t have. But be an advocate of those that do have. And to realize that we are not in conflict, and I think that’s been part of the challenge I’ve seen in Cobb County is that sometimes we exploit our differences, and we don’t realize the strengths of our commonality. That to be a member of our business community it also takes a strong residential community to have employees and to patronize your business. And as the residents here, nothing’s wrong with having businesses that have a healthy bottom line that can contribute to our economy and invest. Another thing I realize is that sometimes we exploit transportation. Having a strong growth system is not an antithesis to a strong transit system. These things work together to move people to get them to where they need to be, and I think it’s not what we’re trying to do, but how we do it and seeing that we are best when we look not just at our differences, but looking at how we work together and bring things together for the betterment of everyone here in Cobb.”

Others in attendance included state Sen. Michael Rhett, D-Marietta; Doug Stoner, chairman of the South Cobb Redevelopment Authority; Jacquelyn Bettadapur, chair of the Cobb Democratic Party; Cobb Board of Elections member Neera Bahl; and Jerica Richardson, Democratic candidate for Commission District 2. Bahl, an attorney who was appointed to the elections board by the Cobb GOP, is a noted Republican. She shared with Around Town why she attended the fundraiser of a Democrat.

“Lisa and I went to Leadership Cobb together. She’s such a wonderful person at heart. And she’s doing good for everybody, it’s not always the Democrat or the Republican, and I’ve always have said to people I say I have conservative values. That doesn’t mean (that I blindly vote). So I am a Republican. I confess I am admittedly Republican. But because Lisa is such a good friend, I know her heart, I know her from friendships, I’m here to support her and wish her all the best.”

After all, as one wag observed, it’s not as if the other option for chairman, Mike Boyce, is any kind of fiscal conservative evangelist. Boyce may run as a Republican, but his tax-and-spend policies have earned him the nickname “Tax Hike Mike.” At least with Cupid, one knows where she stands, the wag said.

Qualifying for the race is March 2 to 6. The regular election is Nov. 3.


LEFT BEHIND: A case of marked ballots was left at a Kennesaw polling place on election night and not collected until the following day.

Cobb Elections Director Janine Eveler revealed the mistake at Tuesday’s Board of Elections meeting where the results were certified.

She said poll workers mistakenly locked a case of 227 ballots inside Kennesaw First Baptist Church, but the case was properly padlocked and sealed. Officials made sure the seal was unbroken the following morning.

“The first precinct that was in, which was Kennesaw 4A, the instructions did say for them to bring the voter ballots back, but they didn’t understand it and they left them there, again, sealed and locked, with the other equipment that was left there,” she said. “We did try to access that facility again. The assistant manager had a key to the church, but he didn’t (have) … the key to the padlock.”

The votes were still counted on election night by using the memory card attached to the scanner.

“The memory card from the scanner was returned and uploaded election night,” she said. “We don’t do anything with the actual ballots coming from the polls except store them in evidence.”

Eveler said the elections board lists items left at polling places in its report to promote transparency. In the past, there have been memory cards left at polls.

This year, Cobb test-piloted a new hand-marked ballot system that will be rolled out statewide if Georgia’s new electronic voting machine system is not up and running by the March 24 presidential primaries.

There were 1,539 votes cast in Kennesaw, according to Cobb Elections, which means the missing ballots account for just under 15% of the votes cast in that city.

There was only one race on the ballot with more than one candidate, the race for Councilman James “Doc” Eaton’s seat. Eaton won reelection by a margin of 383 votes over the second place candidate.


BIPARTISANSHIP: Cobb school board member Randy Scamihorn attracted a few stares as he sat down on the back row during the Cobb Democratic Party’s monthly “Donuts with Democrats” meeting at the Smyrna Community Center last Saturday.

Sitting on the front row, Democrat Cobb school board member Charisse Davis and her husband, Sean, seemed nonplussed — Sean kept turning around to gawk.

Jacquelyn Bettadapur, chair of the Cobb Democratic Party, made sure the audience knew who was in the room when she pointed out the elected officials in attendance.

Randy Scamihorn

Scamihorn later told AT he was not gathering reconnaissance, saying instead he wanted to be available in case anyone wanted to ask him a question. No one did.

The school board member said he wasn’t surprised or offended by what he heard at the meeting, calling it “just political rhetoric.”

“(It was) negative toward (President Donald) Trump. But it wasn’t too bad, really,” he said. “Also, I just wanted to start letting people know that, as an elected official, I truly represent everybody.”

And yes, Scamihorn, a Republican, did in fact pay his $5 and have his Democratic doughnut.

Suppose we’ll see Davis and Dr. Jaha Howard at the next Cobb GOP breakfast? Don’t hold your breath.

In what was not all that different from a campaign rally, Smyrna mayoral hopeful Ryan Campbell and Smyrna Councilman hopeful Austin Wagner received cheers and applause from the party faithful at the Cobb Democratic Party’s monthly “Donuts with Democrats” meeting Saturday.

Cobb Democratic Chair Jacquelyn Bettadapur introduced them by saying in the five-person race for mayor, Campbell came in second.

Because Councilman Derek Norton didn’t receive more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff is triggered. Norton came in first with 3,724 votes or 47.1 percent while Campbell came in second with 24.7 percent or 1,957 votes.

Meanwhile, Wagner is in a tie with Councilwoman Andrea Blustein.

The runoff is Dec. 3.

“Now I don’t know who in this room lives in Smyrna, who lives in Ward 2, but I hope you all voted, because I know there’s Democrats out there that did not vote and they could have really made the difference for Austin,” Bettadapur told the Democrats gathered at the Smyrna Community Center. “We have to do what it takes to support these candidates and get them over the finish line. I don’t care if you live in Smyrna or not. This is a community, the Cobb County Democrats, we’re a community, and we help people whether it’s our race or not, our residential area or not, we need to just pitch in and do what it takes to help these two candidates.”

Bettadapur introduced Wagner first, who observed that every vote matters.

“It comes down to a tie,” Wagner said, adding “ ... we get to do this again and we get to show Smyrna that it’s ready for a progressive voice on the council.”

Wagner said the Smyrna City Council lost such a voice with the defeat of Councilwoman Maryline Blackburn.

“Unfortunately Maryline was not able to be reelected. I’m disappointed that I won’t have the opportunity to work with her on the council, so I think we need to get out there and support the progressive candidates and make sure that we show that Smyrna is not a conservative city, it is a progressive city, it’s changing, it’s very diverse, we need to celebrate that and we need to get people on the council who are willing to recognize and celebrate that and fight for that.”

Bettadapur next brought up Campbell to cheers and applause after noting that Smyrna has indeed changed.

Stacey Abrams won the majority of precincts in the Smyrna area. There are Democrats there and we can turn them out,” Bettadapur said.

In his stump speech, Campbell applauded Wagner for going door to door in apartment complexes where people said nobody had ever come to visit them until this year.

“As we shift voter turnout and as we change the conversation here it’s important that we’re taking our message to people,” Campbell said. “It’s important that we have competitive elections and it’s important that we’re sharing our message as Democrats and pushing the city forward.”

(It’s worth noting that the Smyrna City Council elections are nonpartisan, but back to Campbell.)

Campbell said he ran against someone who had $100,000 more than he did and who had “every connection in this city and we’re still here, y’all. We are still here. Let me make it clear: Since he did not get there the first time he’s not going to get there the second time.”

The crowd cheered.

“When we didn’t have the money, when we didn’t have the connections, we had a message of one Smyrna, of a city that values environmental protection and sustainability, that fights for clean air and clean water. When we didn’t have the money or the connections we had a plan for economic development because we understand that south Cobb shouldn’t be in shambles and people shouldn’t be living in poverty.”

Campbell said his message is to push people forward so that nobody gets left behind.

“We can turn this city blue by giving more people opportunity and letting them know that their dreams can come true here as well. So let’s continue to fight, let’s be proud of the progress we’ve made as Democrats and let’s continue to push forward and let’s get out and vote on Dec. 3,” he said.


What’s in a name? Part II: Marietta Councilman Andy Morris raised eyebrows at Monday’s City Council work session when he suggested a different name for the Lawrence Street Recreation Center.

Late last month, Councilwoman Cheryl Richardson suggested naming the facility in honor of the late Marietta Councilman Hugh Grogan, the first African American elected to the Marietta City Council. Grogan was elected in 1978 and served one term.

Grogan’s election was not a simple affair. He had to sue the city in a landmark legal case that forced it to comply with the Voting Rights Act and create a majority-minority ward.

The rest of the council seemed to be in agreement with the renaming, and it was set to be approved Wednesday as part of the consent agenda, a list of items the council agrees to approve en masse at the start of their meetings.

But Morris seemed to blindside his colleagues by suggesting a different former councilman: James Dodd, the second African American elected to the Marietta City Council, who served from 1993 to 2001.

“I think he’s done more for the city while he was on the council,” Morris said.

Andy Morris

Though they did not vote, the rest of the council did not seem overly enthusiastic about Morris’ suggestion.

Mayor Steve Tumlin said part of the reason he wants to honor Grogan is that his lawsuit opened the way for other African Americans to serve in city government, whether on the council, the school board or in an appointed position.

“That lawsuit brought a lot of leadership out,” he said. “It wasn’t Hugh by himself. It gave leadership roles to others, and I see five or six men when I see Hugh’s name, and James Dodd is one of them. It gave them access to serve the city.”

Tumlin told the MDJ that city guidelines suggest against naming things after people who are still living. Grogan died in 2009, but Dodd is still living.

“There are times when we get seven or eight people wanting us to name something for this or that, so we tried to set up some criteria, but I would say that’s our favorite one given there are a lot of good folks in the community.”

Morris said he would be fine with the renaming passing on the consent agenda as long as the record showed he was against it, but Tumlin said he wanted to remove it from the consent agenda to honor Grogan with a floor vote.

“I think for us to raise our hands in public for what he did in 1978, whether it’s Rev. (Walter) Moon, whether it’s James Dodd, (Grogan) empowered a lot of our friends who graduated in the ’50s from Lemon Street and brought them into leadership.”

The council agreed and removed the item from the consent agenda, which means it will be up for a vote Wednesday night. Tumlin said he hopes the vote is unanimous.

Derek Norton

Loyalties are being carefully considered in Smyrna, where Tuesday’s elections prompted a runoff between top-polling mayoral candidates Derek Norton and Ryan Campbell.

Norton, on the Smyrna City Council the last four years, is the front-runner in the race and is widely considered to represent the status quo, having the endorsement of retiring Mayor Max Bacon, who served in the job for 34 years.

Ryan Campbell

Norton, 42, works as a lobbyist for the Medical Association of Georgia and has openly praised Bacon’s leadership and legacy, expressing a plan to build on that platform if elected.

He won 47.1% of Tuesday’s vote for the Smyrna mayoralty, 1,767 votes ahead of nearest rival Campbell, who secured 24.7%, or 1,957 votes.

Campbell, a 26-year-old financial analyst and Caribbean bistro co-owner, grew up in Smyrna and is campaigning on the ticket of “bridging the gap” between the city’s ever-diversifying communities.

He has impressed supporters with his enthusiasm and vision for the city, which includes better schooling and sustainable infrastructure.

Norton is well known and liked in Cobb, his supporters say, and has more civic duty experience.

If elected, Campbell would become the city’s first African American mayor. Politicos say Smyrna’s population has rapidly become increasingly multicultural and that’s likely being reflected in the polls.

It would appear Campbell got ahead of himself when he claimed Wednesday to have the endorsement of Steve Rasin, who was also running for mayor Tuesday.

Rasin rang the MDJ to say he had not made a formal endorsement of anyone in the Dec. 3 runoff.

Campbell hopes to win with the combined support of everyone who voted against Norton Tuesday, believing he can “solidify” the 53% of votes not in Norton’s name.

Wrapping up her first term, Councilwoman Maryline Blackburn thinks Campbell can do it.

Maryline Blackburn

“He’s a very educated individual, very engaging, and is one of those individuals I believe will be able to bridge that gap in our community,” Blackburn told the MDJ on Thursday. “He’s very inclusive and someone who understands the importance of making sure that all voices are heard in our community.”

Blackburn looks likely to lose her Ward 3 seat, sitting 96 preliminary votes behind sole challenger Travis Lindley, although total votes still have to be confirmed once provisional ballots are counted Tuesday.

Elected as the first black member of the Smyrna City Council in December 2017, Blackburn said she’s proud to have made history in her first term in office.

“Not only was that an accomplishment for me and our community, it just goes to show the importance of our council looking like our community,” she said.

Blackburn just hopes Smyrna residents return to the polling locations in a few weeks, citing poor turnout as the most likely of any potential concerns in the runoff.

“People have had to go to the polls already and it’s hard to convince them to return, but it can be done and I think Ryan has what it takes, that ‘it’ factor, to get them to vote,” she said.


SCHOOL BOARD RELATIONS: Take a dive into the Cobb school board policy and you’ll find quite a few interesting entries, including some that focus on the board members and their First Amendment rights.

Jaha Howard

Under “communication with the news media,” is an entry that suggests, “communication by board members to the news media should be helpful and not harmful.”

Under “board meetings” and “conduct as board member” there are entries suggesting that board members communicate respectfully with one another, even in the face of a difference of opinion. This four-Republican and three-Democrat board certainly posts its share of respectful communications, but there have also been increasing instances of less-than-cordial interactions.

An item of particular interest stands out in the context of one recent board member action:

“Abide by all decisions of the board.”

Speaking technically, each board member agreed to uphold the code of ethics containing this line. But last month, board member Dr. Jaha Howard broke ranks.

In September, the board voted 4-3 to discontinue the longtime practice of giving each board member the opportunity to address their colleagues and the audience. A month later, Howard kept his word that he would find ways to say what was on this mind. He had signed up to speak during public comment and did so when his name was called.

Howard, a Democrat who voted against the removal of board comments, told Around Town this week that he stands by that decision. His comments from the lectern brought into question his adherence to the earlier board decision. But Howard said it’s a matter of interpretation.

“Between the board attorney, superintendent and fellow board members, I have yet to hear any objection,” Howard said.

He added that included on the Nov. 14 board meeting agenda is the consideration to hire an architect for the construction of a new Smyrna middle school. Howard’s comments in September included discussion of overcrowding in the Smyrna area, and the board member said it couldn’t have hurt to “hear from me and Smyrna parents about the urgency of moving forward on the new middle school.”

“It’s bigger than board comments. I do this for our children, period. If the adults are getting in the way, I’m going to call it out,” he said.

Board member Randy Scamihorn, a Republican who voted for the removal of board comments, said he stands by his earlier comments that Howard intended to make a point to the board with his decision. But, Scamihorn added, when something is open to interpretation, it can go either way.

Scamihorn said though it’s true Howard is a member of the public as well as an elected official and therefore may be able to speak from the lectern, certain roles (school board member for example) carry an expectation to follow certain guidelines.

“There are positions in life that when people voluntarily accept them, then they need to accept the responsibility that they are leaders and should set a good example,” he said.


STUDENT HOUSING: Railing against “apartment corporations” and “homeowners that cling to the past,” Richard Pickering, owner of a three-bedroom house he rents to Kennesaw State University students, recently told the Cobb Board of Commissioners a crisis was brewing.

There are some 36,000 students at Kennesaw State University; that number is expected to reach at least 50,000 within the next 10 to 15 years, he said. Where are they all going to live?

Pickering argued commissioners could make an exception to the rule that a house have no more than two unrelated adults.

“Students who don’t have the same last name cannot choose to live together,” he said. “Give them fair housing, give them a break and change this rule. I ask that you think about this so that you can give me — give us a two-year variance on this house while you think about the larger issues at hand here.”

Pickering bought the house so his two children would have a place to live while attending KSU. After they left, he continued renting to students, including the three that live there now. They are not related and, because of the rule, one of them has to go.

Clark County, he said, has already changed a similar ordinance to deal with its affordability crisis.

One of his tenants, a student at KSU, stood beside him.

“I work and go to school. That’s my life. That’s it,” the student said, lest the commissioners think approving the variance would be cosigning an opium den or frat house.

Commissioners weren’t having it. The house was in violation of a county ordinance, and the only question was when — not if — they would have one of the students evicted.

“It’s commendable that he’s looking out for the students,” east Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott said. “But the fact of the matter is, he knew what the rule was and put himself in this position.”

Bob Ott

“The problem is, we’re going to put three students at risk,” Chairman Mike Boyce said. “Let’s approach this from being compassionate human beings.”

Ultimately, the board voted to deny Pickering’s request with the understanding the next student due to graduate could stay until the end of the school year, in May.

After the meeting, as attendees milled about the room, Boyce could be heard saying to Ott:

“Who’s campaigning? I’m trying to help these kids out!”

U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, was keynote speaker at the Cobb GOP’s monthly breakfast over the weekend, where he explained why President Donald Trump did the right thing in his now famous phone call with the Ukrainians and why Democrats are using it as their latest reason du jour to impeach him.

Last week it was Russian collusion, allegations which fell apart once the Mueller report was unveiled. This week it’s about Ukraine, Loudermilk said.

“They are an impeachment looking for a cause. They’re casting a broad net to find something to impeach this president on because he is challenging the status quo. He is changing the face of government that they have learned to manipulate to their benefit and this is what we’re facing,” Loudermilk argued.

Along with listing reasons why this impeachment process, unlike the ones set up for Nixon and Clinton, is slanted to favor Democrats at the expense of Republicans, Loudermilk said the party faithful needs to know about a bipartisan bill signed into law in 2014 called the Ukrainian Freedom Support Act. That law came about from a recognition that while Ukraine needed U.S. aid, it was also rife with corruption. So Congress passed a bill that required the administration to work with the Ukrainian government and ensure that they were fighting corruption within the Ukrainian government before any funds were released.

“I’ll make the argument had not Trump had the phone call with Ukraine, he would have been in violation of federal law,” Loudermilk said to applause. “He must ensure that Ukraine is fighting corruption. We know Ukraine and Russia were involved in the 2016 election. They were trying, they were meddling in it, we knew that.”

How do we know that? From the sworn testimony of President Barack Obama’s cybersecurity czar before the Senate two years ago.

“In the hearing that he was under oath, he said ‘Yes, we knew of cyberattacks against our election system by Ukraine and by Russia, predominantly Russia,’” Loudermilk said.

Yet when the cybersecurity czar told Obama of this activity and proposed countermeasures, he was told to stand down, Loudermilk said.

“The president told his own cybersecurity czar to not interfere with the Russians interference in our elections. That’s just one of the things that we’re investigating. We’re investigating also the hacking of the Democrat server. This president also wants to know how this server got hacked. It was Ukrainians that were involved in that. So the phone call with the Ukrainian president, he is actually following the law. He is actually asking him to help us in an investigation into the corruption of the Ukrainian government in our 2016 election. There’s nothing wrong with that. We put requirements on any country that we send money to. We’re just not going to blindly give you money. … So when you look at what the president did — he said it was a perfect conversation — that’s what he’s getting at. He was actually following the law.”

But what about Joe Biden‘s name being raised? Does that not make the conversation inappropriate?

“My response to that is what if Joe Biden was not a candidate for president at this time? Does that change it? His son was involved in (Ukrainian gas producer) Burisma, which was actually getting investigated by Ukrainian government for corruption that was going on during that time period and Biden himself, Joe Biden bragged about getting them to stop the investigation. During the same time period that Ukrainians and the Russians are getting engaged in the 2016 election. You kind of want to know if there’s a connection there whether or not Joe Biden is running or not President Trump never asked for him to go investigate Biden’s son himself.”

The Democrats want to impeach Trump for supposedly pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and get dirt on him, Loudermilk said.

“Well, that was never brought up. It was all about investigating the corruption and involvement in the 2016 election which the Democrats keep reminding us the Russians got involved, but they’re the ones that never did anything about it. This president is actually trying to do something about it. So he’s asking them to actually do what the law requires him to do. They don’t like it. Actually they don’t care, but this is something they think they can hang their hat on.”

Loudermilk says he’s hearing the impeachment vote will take place the week of Christmas.

From the audience Cobb school board member Randy Scamihorn addressed Loudermilk.

“I’d like to congratulate every Republican in Congress for voting against that fake inquiry,” Scamihorn said.

Democrats like to peel off one or two Republicans on an issue and call it bipartisan. That didn’t happen here, Scamihorn said.

“So thank you, and tell Murkowski, Collins and that RINO Romney ... ”

“I thought it was Pierrre or something,” Loudermilk interjected, referring to how Mitt Romney was recently discovered to be tweeting under the alias Pierre Delecto.

“They need to take note of what their fellow colleagues did in the Congress. Thank you,” Scamihorn said.


APPOINTMENTS: Deane Bonner, longtime leader of the Cobb County NAACP, is about to have a new title. Cobb Commission Chairman Mike Boyce has named Bonner to be the next citizen representative on the Atlanta Regional Commission. Boyce announced the decision Saturday night at the Cobb NAACP’s annual Oscar Freeman Freedom Fund Banquet.

Bonner is set to replace banker Rob Garcia on the commission, which is composed of metro Atlanta governments that partner together on issues of regional significance. Garcia’s four-year term is set to end Dec. 31, and Bonner is set to be sworn in in January.

“She brings a certain amount of experience and skills to the ARC, providing support to us on the Livable Centers Initiative, more on the issues that involve quality of life,” Boyce told the MDJ after the announcement. “The amount of experience she brings and the skillset she has will help us bring the kinds of programs the ARC funds to Cobb County.”

Deane Bonner

The civil rights doyenne told the MDJ she is grateful for the opportunity.

“It’s going to be a learning curve, but I’m honored to do it, and I’m glad that it’s going to happen,” she said. “When I look at it, I see it as broader than just local stuff. ARC will give me an opportunity to broaden what I bring to the table, and certainly being an advocate, I’m going to look at things a little different than what’s happening there.”

Bonner has a reputation for speaking truth to power. Generations of Cobb politicians have feared becoming the target of her ire, and she wasted no time demonstrating that she doesn’t owe Boyce anything for the appointment.

At the end of the evening was the NAACP membership appeal, which consisted of Bonner standing at the podium and demanding people sign up.

“I told them I can get 25 members, so those 25 members I have to get, I don’t care if you do it for your daughter, your son, if you’re already a member,” she said. “In fact, Mr. Chair, you’re already a member, but I know you’re going to be the first one to hold up your hand and buy another membership.”

Bonner’s prediction was correct: Boyce was the first in the room to sign up, and well over 25 hands soon joined the chairman’s in volunteering.


Judge Conley Ingram

RETIREMENT: After six decades presiding over various Cobb County courts, as well as four years of service on the Georgia Supreme Court, Senior Superior Court Judge Conley Ingram is retiring.

The judge made his announcement in a letter to the Cobb Bar.

Ingram, who has lived in Marietta with his wife Sylvia for more than 60 years, says he plans to remain in the city, where he said he looks forward to being surrounded by family and friends.

He also said he’ll be around to coach others in “our wonderful legal profession as they continue to carry on our Georgia Bar’s great tradition of zealously representing people of all walks of life.”

Charisse Davis

The Cobb school board is set to consider using eminent domain to pull 15 acres of land just south of Walton High School into its portfolio. School board members and district staff say the acreage will be used to rehouse the school’s displaced softball and tennis teams with the construction of new facilities for them.

When construction began in 2015 on the replacement Walton High School — a project funded under one of the now five iterations of the imperishable yet “special” purpose local option sales tax — construction forced the two sports programs to use off-site facilities.

Moving into the fifth year of displacement while negotiations with a certain nearby landowner are apparently less than ideal, the school board is gearing up to vote on whether to assert its right to seize the property through eminent domain. While that suggestion by itself runs contrary to the assumed values of a small-government-loving Republican-majority school board, there’s an even shinier pearl of irony in this oyster:

Democrat Charisse Davis, the same school board member who is doggedly pursuing a formalized relationship between the Cobb County Board of Commissioners and the Cobb Board of Education, said she hadn’t spoken to her district commissioner, Bob Ott, about the board’s proposed use of eminent domain.

“That’s always important to me, and again — talking about those partnerships — I anticipate that that would happen after we take the vote and see if, in fact, we are moving forward with the process for eminent domain,” Davis said. “But I’m pretty sure that the situation that’s happened over the years and the construction at Walton is something that Commissioner Ott is well aware of.”

Bob Ott

The school board has the right, under law, to propose the use of eminent domain, and it’s not the county’s place to insert their opinion into that proposal, Ott told Around Town.

But, he added, when a sign advertising the school board’s intentions to consider eminent domain was posted near the property, he learned of the proposal through a concerned citizen’s call.

“The issue at hand is that there’s a lot of people who don’t understand the difference between the school board and the board of commissioners, so when they see something like that ... myself or my assistant gets the call about, ‘Hey, what’s going on?,’” Ott said.

It’s a common courtesy between the two governing bodies to inform one another when the actions of one body may produce some phone calls for another, Ott said.

So it seems a certain school board member may have been too busy calling for increased communication to increase her own.


WHAT’S IN A NAME? The next time you go to Marietta’s Lawrence Street Recreation Center, you might actually be going to the Hugh L. Grogan Jr. Recreation Center.

Lawrence Street was named for Samuel Lawrence, who came to Marietta in 1848 and served as mayor in the early 1860s, according to the Marietta Museum of History.

Councilwoman Cheryl Richardson is calling for the name change to honor the late one-term councilman who was the first African American elected to the Marietta City Council. The city’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Committee voted unanimously last week to move the change forward to the full council.

Cheryl Richardson

Richardson said people in the community have been talking about naming something after Grogan for years.

“In researching all that Councilman Grogan did for Ward 5 specifically and the city of Marietta generally, I thought this was the right thing to do,” she said. “Mr. Grogan, from my understanding, spent countless hours at the recreation center teaching kids to swim and play various sports.”

Councilman Reggie Copeland, who represents the same ward Grogan once did, praised the idea.

“I think this will be a victory,” he said. “It will be a wonderful thing to have something named after an African American who served this community, particularly Ward 5, and was the first to do so, and I just think it would be a wonderful thing.”

In the 1970s, Grogan sued the city in a landmark legal case in Cobb, forcing it to comply with the Voting Rights Act and create a majority-minority ward. For the most part, an African American resident has served in that seat since, from Grogan to James Dodd to Anthony Coleman to Ruben Sands to Copeland.

“I said, ‘If Jimmy Carter can go from Plains, Georgia, to Washington, I can surely go from Lemon Street to City Hall,” Grogan once told the MDJ.

In 1977, he was elected councilman of Marietta’s Ward 5 and served a four-year term from 1978 to 1981.

Mayor Steve Tumlin said he thinks the renaming will be a fitting honor for a Marietta trailblazer.

“Breaking through that barrier in 1978, even considering Reconstruction, I think he was the very first, and he had to fight to get it in a redistricting lawsuit,” he said. “So I think that recommendation is appropriate, and I look forward to calling it the Grogan Rec Center.”

Richardson said she is aiming to schedule the renaming ceremony for Jan. 12, which would have been Grogan’s 83rd birthday.


SANCTIONS: Marietta-headquartered Traton Homes, a family-owned real estate development firm founded in 1971 by brothers Bill and Milburn Poston, has been fined $5,000 by the city of Johns Creek, having been found guilty of five violations of the city’s building codes.

Documents released to the MDJ by Johns Creek this week show the company denied each of the five violations but was found guilty on all counts and fined $1,000 for each.

The violations involved shoddy subgrade, base and pavement work below city standards in the Greenwich Park Subdivision between September 2018 and March 2019, court documents show.

Traton, and specifically Senior Vice President Chris Poston, was also charged with inferior workmanship and failure to follow permit requests with respect to the subdivision, his citations issued by the Johns Creek Municipal Court show.

Traton “did not complete project in accordance with the approved LDP (Land Development Permit),” one citation states. “Did not provide pavement ‘topping’ or final asphalt layer of road section.”

Chris Poston was named in the company’s citations and was sentenced on Oct. 10 in Johns Creek Municipal Court, documents show.

Traton Homes is one of metro Atlanta’s oldest home building companies, according to its website, developing throughout Cobb, Cherokee, Fulton and Forsyth counties.

It expects to open six new communities in Cobb alone in the last quarter of 2019, with more to come in 2020.


APPOINTMENTS: The moral compass of Cobb County, the estimable Board of Ethics, introduced one new member and reintroduced another earlier this week.

Joe Atkins took a brief sabbatical from the board earlier this year when Joyette Holmes, who had reappointed him — he was initially chosen in 2015 by Cobb employees — was promoted from chief judge of the Magistrate Court to district attorney. Her successor, the maverick Brendan Murphy, had to appoint a member of his own. So he searched near and far, and settled on … Joe Atkins.

In a letter posted on the county’s website, Murphy described his appointee as a skilled attorney with decades of experience. Atkins formerly served as a member of the Cobb County Attorney’s Office.

Meanwhile, the Board of Commissioners appointed attorney Doug Shaddix.


RATE HIKES: An increase in water rates cleared its first hurdle Thursday when Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority board members signaled their approval of annual rate increases through 2024.

Board member James Balli, noted agoraphobic — he is currently building a house in Alaska — made the motion to recommend that the board’s finance committee adopt the rate increases. He seems to have thought it might not be a popular decision.

“And my name is Mike Boyce, if you need to quote me,” Balli told the MDJ’s Aleks Gilbert after the meeting ended.

Cobb school board member Dr. Jaha Howard speaks from the lectern during the public comment part of the school board meeting on Thursday. 

In his first year on the Cobb school board, Dr. Jaha Howard, one of two freshman Democrats, has certainly stirred the pot. (That’s not to say the other, Charisse Davis, hasn’t also spent ample time in the same kitchen — what with referring to some fellow board members as “four older people, and you know, four white males” to seeking reforms to the county’s senior school tax exemption).

Howard seemingly sought to prove a point on Thursday.

At the board’s evening meeting, Howard signed himself up to speak during the public comment part of the meeting designed for members of the public to address the board.

Howard’s introduction from board attorney Clem Doyle prompted scowls from some on the board dais.

“I’m here today, because I just want to talk a little bit about vision and leadership,” Howard said, grinning and scanning the faces of his fellow elected officials from a new angle. “I specifically want to highlight the parents and the student leaders in the Smyrna and Mableton area, and specifically the middle schoolers.”

Howard continued saying that “something magical is happening” in Smyrna and Mableton, areas included in the post he represents.

“The energy is palpable. Expectations are high. The vision is clear, and it’s excellence. It’s about persistence, and it’s about passion. And when I tell you that day after day after day we have challenges in our schools when it comes to the density, when it comes to overcrowding, trying to deal with so many types of people and types of families all coming and converging in this space — and we’re figuring it out together. So I wanted to say to my fellow board members, thank you for doing everything that we can to make sure that we are fueling this. You know, sometimes when you see a good fire, you gotta fuel it and fan it, right?”

He went on to name the middle schools in his post and put into the public record that they have “champions” on the board.

As it happens, Thursday’s meeting was also the first meeting after the board’s 4-3 vote removing scheduled board comments from the end of the board’s monthly sparring matches.

As reported by the MDJ’s Thomas Hartwell, Howard warned fellow board members at that Sept. 19 meeting that if he was muzzled from commenting at the end of the meetings, he would find ways to say what was on this mind in other parts of the meeting.

Prior to that Sept. 19 meeting, he’d delivered handwritten notes to board members, alerting them of his plans to speak out on “major issues.” Those notes were the catalyst for board Chairman David Chastain’s recommendation to ax the comments.

Board member Randy Scamihorn said while it appeared Howard was making a statement on Thursday, there is no policy prohibiting board members, who are also members of the general public, from speaking during public comment.

“I guess he felt strongly enough that he wanted to make a statement,” he said.

But, Scamihorn added, public comment is limited to 30 minutes per meeting. So if Howard intends to speak at the lectern, he may need to aim for meetings with few speakers.


Willie Zin’s drawing won first place at Chalktoberfest this year.

CHALKTOBERFEST: California’s Willie Zinn, the winner of this year’s Chalktoberfest, recently explained the inspiration behind his winning piece.

It all began with a photograph he found.

"I love doing portraits and when I was browsing for a good photo, I came across the girl and she looked stunning, especially her eyes," Zinn said via Facebook Messenger. "I told myself I had to draw this."

But he wanted to tell a story. The girl looked innocent, and lost, the artist said. Zinn went searching for another photo, and found one of sibling refugees.

"They kind of go together," he explained. "In this world, children are always the victim. Innocent and fragile for the most part."

The sibling photograph was taken by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Muhammed Muheisen, the founder of Everyday Refugees Foundation.

“I said, ‘Be as controversial as you want, I don’t mind,’” Kim Frye, of Frye Law Group, said after the winners were announced. The firm sponsored Zin's piece. “As a business owner I wasn’t going to interfere with his artistic expression.”

But Zin wasn't aiming for controversial.

"I wanted people to feel that from this drawing without being political, making it propaganda," he said. "I hope I was able to make the onlookers capture that or feel that."


EXPLODING BAMBOO: Cobb County firefighters had an unusual situation to deal with recently, when they were called to a bamboo fire at the intersection of Hurt Road and Landrum Drive.

The heat from the fire boiled moisture trapped inside the segmented chambers of the bamboo stalks, turning it into steam and causing the stalks to explode, firefighters explained Monday morning. Cobb County Fire and Emergency Services posted two photographs and a brief description from the incident on its public Facebook page Monday morning.

“Engine 7 and Engine 30 recently battled a bamboo fire,” the post stated. “This was definitely an unusual fire because the bamboo stalks have segmented chambers that were exploding as the moisture inside of them boiled and turned to steam.”

Photos from the fire show steam rising from blackened bamboo stalks as firefighters dampen down hotspots. In one photograph, a firefighter is seen with a hose in one hand and a bottle of household dishwashing liquid in the other.

In the comments underneath the post, one person asked what this was for, to which the department replied the detergent is used as a “wetting agent” to reduce the surface tension of the water droplets.

“This allows the smaller droplets to change their shape in order to spread and fit into smaller areas than they could normally reach,” Cobb County Fire and Emergency Services posted.

A good reason to keep the dish soap handy.

Standing in front of placards stating “We Love Lucy,” U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, spoke to the Cobb Progressives Saturday, recounting Washington’s accomplishments, warning of Russian interference in Cobb’s 2020 elections remembering her colleague Elijah Cummings who passed away Oct. 17.

“I flew in from Washington just for you,” the freshman representative joked to the crowd of three dozen Cobb Progressives members who met in the Roy Barnes Law Office building.

On the loss of Cummings, McBath said the Maryland representative was quick to make her feel welcome in Washington.

“I used to sit next to him. He was a giant among us in Congress, he really, really was. He was so highly revered and had done so much wonderful work.”

McBath admitted to being starstruck when meeting Cummings for the first time and said the 23-year congressman was quick to bestow sage advice:

“I’d sit next to him and he’d say ‘How you doing, kid?’ And I said, ‘Oh my God, it’s so hard being a freshman.’ He gave me such sound, wise words and he told me:

“'First and foremost, keep your eyes on God.

“'Care for your family. Go back home to care for your family.

“'Stay focused, stay focused, stay focused on your district, and you’ll be just fine.’”

"And he’d give me a fist bump.”

McBath said despite criticism of a do-nothing Washington, progress is being made.

“Things are going well. I will tell you, despite what you hear with all the white noise, we have done a lot of work. The Democrat caucus has done a lot of work. We’ve passed over 200 bills.”

But the 6th District representative said much of the accomplishments are being stymied by the opposing party.

“Those pieces of legislation are sitting at Mitch McConnell’s feet. Over 60 pieces of legislation that we’ve passed, bipartisan legislation — are sitting at his feet.”

She had little positive to say about her colleagues across the aisle.

“I’ll be completely honest with you. I have been disheartened … and it’s been very painful to sit on the committees and just listen to the Republican colleagues. It’s been very, very painful. I will tell you, I’m so grateful to be in the seat because I really believe that in the House we are the first line of defense. If we were not there, I can’t even imagine where we would be as a country.”

Russian interference in U.S. elections didn’t stop at the presidential campaigns, she said. It happened in 2018 in her own 6th District race and likely will happen again.

“The direction of the country is very precarious right now. I do now know that during the 2018 campaign, east Cobb and also Fulton elections were targeted. They were targeted by the Russian interference. I have been asking lots of questions on what’s happening in Georgia, what’s happening in our district, and how are we going to prevent (ourselves) from being compromised. We’re (Georgia is) now a priority because we have two Senate seats. I’m very, very concerned that we will be targeted.”

Five Republicans and one Independent have announced a run for the seat. Those GOP opponents include Karen Handel, who held the seat prior to McBath. McBath eked out a 50.5% victory over Handel in 2018.

According to its website, the Cobb Progressives is “a group of like-minded activists here in Cobb County, keen to support progressive policies and programs (and political candidates!).”

Other political candidates speaking to the group Saturday were Jimmy Herndon, candidate for sheriff, and Edwin Mendez, seeking to fill the District 4 Cobb Commission post.

A Burmese chicken

Jim Puckett, mayor of Fitzgerald, Georgia, has told local reporters he’s planning to build a 62-foot tall chicken-shaped topiary, six feet taller than Marietta’s 56-foot Big Chicken.

If, by some strange chance, you’ve never heard of Fitzgerald, Georgia, it’s in south central Georgia and has a population of just over 9,000.

Marietta and Fitzgerald actually have a lot in common: Marietta is home to celebrities such as country music legend Travis Tritt and Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, first overall pick in the 2015 Major League Baseball draft.

Fitzgerald has given rise to its own share of big names as well. Among its noteworthy residents are Charlie Paulk, seventh pick of the 1968 NBA draft, and Forrest Towns, who ran track in the 1936 Summer Olympics, according to Wikipedia.

And while Marietta hosts the Major League Soccer champion team Atlanta United and is a stone’s throw from the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park, Fitzgerald is something of a sports town as well: it hosted a minor league baseball team from 1948 to 1957.

With no baseball to watch for 62 years, Fitzgerald residents have apparently come up with alternate ways to entertain themselves, including tending to wild chickens.

According to the Fitzgerald tourism website, downtown Fitzgerald is home to an invasive species of Burmese chicken.

“Fitzgerald residents have a love/hate relationship with these wild birds,” reads the website the city presumably created to attract visitors. “Some folks buy seed and feed them regularly; others chase them out of their yards and gardens with a broom and a few choice words. Whether loved or hated, Burmese chickens are a familiar part of the Fitzgerald scene. They wake you up in the morning, create minor traffic problems and some claim even keep the bugs away.”

Hizzoner Mayor Puckett told reporters he aims to leverage the city’s infestation to attract tourism dollars, thus the giant topiary.

Marietta spokeswoman Lindsey Wiles called for torches and pitchforks on social media.

“Currently organizing the revolt now, we will assemble at City Hall,” she posted – facetiously, one assumes.

But Mayor Steve Tumlin, who makes a habit of handing out Big Chicken lapel pins, seems to be taking the challenge in stride.

“I think it’s flattery,” he said with a laugh. “There’s room enough for us all to think big. But to imitate us is flattery … the way I look at it, Marietta will welcome it into the world of the Big Chicken.


FENNEL FAREWELL: A sooner than expected change of address for eight-year Smyrna City Council member Ron Fennel has resulted in him having to abandon his seat.

Ron Fennel

Fennel represented Smyrna’s Ward 7 until Oct. 7, when he announced at the council’s regular meeting he was no longer living in Vinings Estates and therefore could not represent the community, per city code.

“I’m here on an earlier than expected mission,” he said from the public lectern at the meeting. “It’s a testament to the city of Smyrna, our city’s appeal and the strength of the real estate market that I had the good fortune to find myself in this position.”

Fennel, first elected in 2011, and his wife Cindy, had earlier decided to move so their sons, aged 12 and 13, could attend school in a different part of Cobb County.

At the City Council’s first regular meeting in August, Fennel announced he would not be seeking reelection for this reason, but he expected to finish the end of his current term through Dec. 31.

Instead, his home sold within 24 days of being advertised on Sept. 6, he said at the Oct. 7 meeting.

“Smyrna’s real estate market remains strong,” Fennel said. “I give today my notice and take leave of my responsibilities and declare the Ward 7 post vacant for the time being. Fortunately the election is less than 30 days away so there will be a new face to fill that seat in short order.”

Hotel manager David Monroe and professor Lewis Wheaton are vying for the Ward 7 seat in the Nov. 5 elections.

The winner will be sworn into office sooner than other successful candidates, as the seat is vacant, Smyrna’s community relations director Jennifer Bennett told the MDJ.

She said Ward 7’s new representative should be sworn in before the end of the year, followed by the other newly elected council members on Jan. 1, as is customary.


PARKS & REC: Another change at the Smyrna government level has just occurred, with Cheney Woods neighborhood resident Kamma Manion appointed to the city’s parks and recreation commission.

Manion, 43, is a stay-at-home mom with a four-year-old daughter who is keen to get more involved in the community.

She learned about the opportunity to fill the commission seat vacated by Eric Fernald when speaking with Smyrna City Council member Susan Wilkinson.

“I would like to see that all citizens of Smyrna are served, not just the ones that live around the city center, Manion told the MDJ Tuesday. “Right now we have a problem where we don’t have parks in some areas.”

She said she’s curious to know how Smyrna’s federal funding for parks and recreation is administered, to ensure it’s helping the citizens in the communities it’s intended for.

“We have some beautiful parks here but some are hard to get to if you don’t have a car because we’re not a very walkable city,” Manion said. “A lot of neighborhoods don’t have access to the things that people living in downtown Smyrna have.”

Manion’s appointment, to serve a two-year term ending December 2021, was approved 6-0 without discussion by council members at their regular meeting Monday.


SCHOOLS & VAPING: At Thursday’s Cobb school board afternoon meeting, Tina Bullock, Atlanta attorney and mother of Cobb students was the sole public speaker. Bullock proposed to the board that she could represent them in a lawsuit against Juul and other electronic cigarette makers in light of vaping-related deaths and injuries.

As of October 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported more than 1,400 lung injury cases across 49 states (all except Alaska) associated with the use of e-cigarette or vaping products. Thirty-three deaths have been reported in 24 states, according to the CDC.

“I don’t know if you’re aware that school districts have joined in litigation. The cases have been consolidated in the Northern District of California. We had four school districts that have filed,” Bullock said. “We would love to talk to you more about writing a proposal to represent Cobb County in that litigation.”

When Around Town asked Superintendent Chris Ragsdale for his opinion on the proposal, the superintendent said he wasn’t aware of the vaping injuries and deaths outlined by the CDC. But, he said, the district implemented a vaping policy years ago and has zero tolerance for the products.

“I have no earthly idea about it, so I’d have to have the data,” Ragsdale said. “What we’re doing we’ve been doing for a while, as far as making sure we’re cutting down as much as we can on vaping.”

Vaping products are not allowed on campus, according to district policy.


SENIORS & TAXES: Discussion on the Cobb County senior school tax exemption reared its head again on Thursday.

School board members were discussing the district’s finances when board member David Banks asked Chief Finance Officer Brad Johnson what revenue the district loses from the annual exemption, which allows Cobb residents 62 and older to avoid all school and school bond taxes.

“Right now, the 62 and over exemption lost revenue is $122 million. Moving into the future, we just don’t know where (it will) plateau,” Johnson said. “It just depends on the population and how the population changes.”

Board member Randy Scamihorn countered Johnson’s calling the $122 million “lost” revenue. Scamihorn said school district revenue that was never in the district’s coffers can’t be lost.

“I’m not sure that that’s an accurate description,” he said. “I really don’t know if lost is the right term.”

“I’ll work on that,” Johnson replied, prompting an, “I’ll help you,” from Scamihorn.

Charisse Davis

Board member Charisse Davis thanked Banks for broaching the topic, before launching again into a pitch she made to the board at its May retreat.

Davis began by saying the senior exemption accounts for 27% of the total tax digest, when in 1990, it accounted for only 9%.

“This has not only gone up, but gone up a considerable amount. I’ve brought it up before, just about the sustainability of it, and this is why it came up at the retreat, that it would be a good idea to have it studied,” she said, beating a drum she has pounded since 2018, before she took her seat on the board. “There’s just no way that we can act like this won’t affect us.”

Lucy McBath

First-term Democrat Lucy McBath is outperforming her potential Republican challengers in collecting campaign donations in the early stages of the 2020 race for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.

The district encompasses parts of east Cobb, most of the northern Atlanta suburbs and the northern parts of Fulton and DeKalb counties.

McBath has the highest campaign contributions of the candidates vying for the seat as listed by the Federal Election Commission.

Her contributions, other than loans, topped $623,091 in this year’s third quarter spanning July, August and September, commission records show.

McBath’s campaign has attracted $1.6 million since the start of this year, per the commission.

Her nearest rival in the financing stakes is Republican Karen Handel, who McBath ousted in 2018 by just under 3,000 votes. Handel received $252,385 in campaign contributions in the last quarter, and $700,799 since the start of the year, the commission shows.

Karen Handel

Handel herself won the seat by a narrow margin in June 2017 when she defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff in a special election runoff, gaining 51.8% of the vote to Ossoff’s 48.2%, succeeding Tom Price, who resigned prior to his ever-so-brief stint as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

State Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, is in third place in the campaign contribution contest with $166,625 donated in the last quarter and $525,632 since the start of the year, according to the commission.

State Sen. Brandon Beach

In fourth place is Republican Marjorie Taylor Green, who started collecting campaign contributions in April, per the commission. Since then she has received $125,441, of which $102,090 was contributed in the last quarter of July, August and September.

Majorie Taylor Greene

The commission shows Republican Nicole Rodden is in fifth place, contributions wise, banking $8,915 in the last quarter and $69,329 since April 1, when her campaign funds started.

Nicole Rodden

Why is McBath doing so much better than the Republican challengers?

“Part of it is the power of incumbency,” said Kerwin Swint, director of Kennesaw State University’s School of Government and International Affairs. “Incumbents almost always out-raise challengers, and so that’s part of the story I think.”

Name recognition and the power of her office to raise money is not the only thing she has going for her.

“I also think that Lucy McBath and the 6th District is a premiere race for Congressional Democrats. That is, they really want to hold on to that seat, it being a formerly Republican stronghold. Of course it was featured prominently in the Handel/Ossoff runoff, so people nationwide know about it, and so Democrats are, I think, highlighting that seat and getting donors to contribute.”

Swint said while he hasn’t looked at the disclosures in details, he also thinks it has to do with her stance on guns.

“I can only assume that she’s drawing money from some anti-gun individuals, groups and so on, and so I think that’s part of her appeal also,” he said.

Also, consider that McBath faces no competition from her own party, while the Republican hopefuls are splitting conservative dollars four ways. When totals are added $1.4 million have been contributed to GOP campaigns while McBath has raised $1.6 million this year.


JAHA ON JAIL: School board members generally have enough on their plate that they don’t wade into foreign territory. But that’s exactly where Cobb school board member Jaha Howard ventured when he decided to sound off about the county jail.

Steering out of his school board lane, Howard took to social media to protest the treatment of inmates and the staffing levels at the jail.

“HELP ME FIND ANSWERS!!!” Howard’s Facebook post reads. “Imagine being FOUND DEAD just 4 days after entering jail on a drug possession charge. Imagine the ENTIRE jail is already on complete lockdown! Imagine getting only 15 minutes A DAY to leave your cell to shower for OVER A MONTH. Imagine having more questions than answers. Imagine being the 4th person to die this year. Imagine a jail being severely understaffed and officers being injured. This is HAPPENING NOW in Cobb County jail! Kevil Wingo was just 36 years old. Rest In Peace. #BeLight.”

Jaha Howard

Wingo, of Atlanta, died on the morning of Sept. 29, after being transported to Kennestone Hospital, according to Cmdr. Robert Quigley with the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office.

According to jail records, Wingo was arrested Sept. 24 and charged with cocaine possession. Quigley said at the time that Wingo “experienced a medical emergency … while in custody.”

In response to Howard’s Sunday social media blast, Quigley declined to comment on Wingo’s death, saying the joint investigation between the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office and Cobb Medical Examiners Office is ongoing. He did confirm the reports that the jail was on lockdown.

“The lockdown at the detention center is in place for the safety of our staff and inmates and not for the reasons claimed by Jaha Howard,” Quigley said.


IVORY TOWER RANKINGS: Kennesaw State University, the third-largest university in Georgia with more than 35,000 students, failed to make the list of top 10 colleges and universities in Georgia, according to a recent study conducted by personal finance website WalletHub.

Asked about this, the university’s communications department pointed to a list of U.S. News and World Reports’ national rankings, among them where KSU placed first in the state for online Master’s of Business Administration and online graduate information technology program. The list also placed KSU at No. 293 out of 381 on its “2020 Best Colleges” list.

For reference, here’s the list from WalletHub:

Georgia Institute of Technology

Emory University

University of Georgia

Wesleyan College

Georgia College & State University

Mercer University

Oglethorpe University

Piedmont College

Brenau University

Berry College


HOTEL RIBBON-CUTTING: Visitors to the Kennesaw area will soon have a new place to stay. Chattanooga-based Vision Hospitality Group is set to cut the ribbon on a new dual-branded hotel, Home2 Suites & Tru by Hilton in Atlanta NW/Kennesaw Town Center, Nov. 7.

The company broke ground on the 170-room hotel in 2017.

The Tru by Hilton brand is designed for short-term travelers while the Home2 Suites brand is intended for extended stay guests. The hotel boasts features including large communal spaces, mobile check-in, a social media wall, fast charging stations, a fitness facility, an outdoor saltwater pool and 24-hour business center.

The new digs are at 2975 Ring Rd., a stone’s throw from Town Center Mall and a short trip from Kennesaw State University.


POLITICAL PLATTER: Mableton’s Edwin Mendez, fresh out of college, has decided to put his degree in political science to good use.

Edwin Mendez 

Mendez, 24, a Democrat, has announced his decision to run for a seat on the Cobb County Board of Commissioners and fix the “huge lack of representation of the working class, the Hispanic community (and) the immigrant community” in Cobb.

If elected, he would replace District 4 Commissioner Lisa Cupid, a Democrat who is running for county chair against Republican incumbent Mike Boyce.

The son of immigrant parents, Mendez was raised in Cobb County.

“Much of my childhood,” he said in an email, “you could see me and my brothers out with family or friends playing cops and robbers around Mableton Manor or Castlewood on Discovery Boulevard.”

At St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Smyrna, Mendez served as youth minister. In that role, he supervised adult and teen volunteer teams and put together a Latino youth success seminar and a teen leadership development program. At Georgia State University, he was a legislative intern in the state House Judiciary Committee, and he has served in the Georgia National Guard since 2014.

Mendez has put unity and justice at the center of his campaign, casting himself as a voice to the voiceless. His platform includes support for nonprofits, paying county employees a living wage, creation of a human rights commission, ending Immigration and Customs Enforcement presence in the county and expansion of public transportation and home ownership programs.

“If we truly want to change the future of the district, we cannot do that solely by investing in future residents,” he wrote. “We need to invest in (residents) who have made District 4 home for years.”

Mendez joins a crowded field. Other candidates vying for Cupid’s District 4 seat next year include Monica DeLancy, Elliott Hennington, Sheila Edwards, April McDonald, Monique Sheffield and Angelia Pressly.

Candidates for Powder Springs City Council went head to head Thursday night, taking on such issues as downtown and workforce development, infrastructure needs, trail construction and creation of a diverse tax base, to name a few.

The debate attracted scores of residents, along with some former and current elected officials, who cheered for some candidates’ responses to submitted audience questions and scoffed at others.

Patrick Bordelon

One of the less-than-enthusiastic responses came early. During Patrick Bordelon’s opening statements, the Post 1 councilman and mayor pro tem running for reelection made a comparison that seemed to miss with the crowd:

“I’m serving as city councilman, at-large Post 1, finishing our first term. I’m also currently serving as the mayor pro tem for the city of Powder Springs, which makes me the Mike Pence of Powder Springs,” Bordelon said, the crowd responding with sarcastic laughter and some groans.

When it was Mayor Al Thurman’s turn to make his introduction, he capitalized on the opportunity to have a little fun with the comment:

“Don’t get it twisted. I’m not Donald,” Thurman said, referring to President Donald Trump. He was rewarded with laughter and applause.

Mayor Al Thurman

Another apparent miss with the audience came at the hands of Guenevere Reed, one of three candidates for the at-large Post 2 council seat, held by Councilwoman Patricia Wisdom. Reed, a retired, single mother of three moved to Powder Springs about 20 years ago from New York after her husband was murdered. In calls Thursday for more resident input in city goings-on, Reed said she supported the creation of a city of South Cobb, saying it would be good for Powder Springs.

“There have been rumors and efforts regarding forming a city of South Cobb, which would include Mableton, Austell and Powder Springs. I think that would be wonderful to have South Cobb cityhood,” she said, prompting confused scanning of the room from some in the audience. “Cityhood means you could create your own entity, you can govern yourselves, you can apply for block grants and monetize what Cobb County’s identity is. … The population is growing. We need to build infrastructure, to build more affordable housing, more community and economic development, as well as social activities.”

Guenevere Reed

Reed also said cityhood would create long-lasting neighborhoods and get rid of “that gerrymandered map” that “doesn’t include the rest of Powder Springs.”

“They don’t have a say,” she said, without specifying what map she was referring to. “And like I said, (we should) create citizen (and) youth advisory councils to get input. I’m quite sure I’m not the only one that believes that we can do it, just like Marietta did. We can make a difference. We can have our own city.”

Ms. Reed may need a reminder she is running for Powder Springs “City” Council.

On a lighter note, Larry Thomas, candidate for the at-large Post 1 council seat provided a little comic relief late in the debate. Thomas, who all night countered claims of sitting council members and the mayor, calling for more accountability and transparency, agreed with Thurman on what an imaginary $1 million grant would be used for in the city. The answer for both Thurman and Thomas was a second community center like the Ron Anderson Community Center where the debate was held on the opposite side of town.

“Get the paramedics ready, because I’m going to agree with the mayor,” he said, cutting the night’s tension with laughs from the crowd.

Larry Thomas


DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY: Seventeen long years of service to the Development Authority of Cobb County came to an end for stalwart Bob Morgan this week, when he received a certificate of thanks from Chairman Clark Hungerford.

Clark Hungerford

“He’s had a long, distinguished career here on the authority and I just wanted to take a moment,” Hungerford said.

Morgan, who has been the board’s vice chairman for the last eight years, only stayed at the meeting long enough to receive his certificate and a few brief well-wishes from his peers, citing urgent “tax returns to finish.”

His position on the board, an appointment by the Cobb County Board of Commissioners, has been filled by J.C. Bradbury, an economics professor at Kennesaw State University, whose first meeting was Morgan’s last.

Bradbury was warmly welcomed by board members at their Tuesday meeting in Cumberland.

“We’re glad to have you in here,” Hungerford told Bradbury, but the professor didn’t get a chance to contribute much to the board’s first real items of business, having to declare a conflict of interest and leave the room.

A proposal seeking up to $30 million in the authority’s revenue bonds was presented to the board on behalf of The University Financing Foundation, which would use the money to pay off almost $19 million of the bonds it was originally issued by the authority in 2010.

TUFF would also spend $3 million of the new bonds on security and access improvements at Georgia Tech’s federal defense research campus beside Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Smyrna.

As an employee of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, Bradbury recused himself from the board’s consideration of this proposal and was not a part of the 5-0 vote in support of it.

“Can J.C. come back in so he can hear this? I know he can’t vote on it, but it might be good exposure for him,” board member and assistant secretary/treasurer Kevin Nicholas asked early on in the board’s discussion of the proposal.

But the board’s attorney, Dan McRae, explained that wouldn’t be acceptable without prior public notice of Bradbury’s conflict of interest, so the professor stayed in the corridor.

His introduction to the board did prompt several changes in its leadership, however.

With Morgan’s exit, the role of vice chairman was vacated.

Hungerford suggested board member Donna Rowe for the position, as “she’s been here the longest next to me.”

Hungerford also suggested that Rowe’s role as board secretary/treasurer then be taken by board member Jamala McFadden, citing McFadden’s good work and experience on the board’s grants committee.

In addition, Hungerford suggested Nicholas be appointed to the grants committee, and all his recommendations were unanimously agreed upon by board members, with the exception of McFadden who wasn’t at the meeting.

“She’s done a wonderful job in the grants committee, she’s very in-depth and cares about what we’re doing,” Rowe said of McFadden.


O CHRISTMAS TREE: If you’ve got a 23- to 25-foot evergreen tree and nowhere to put it, the city of Marietta would like to hear from you.

The Marietta Parks and Recreation Department is on conifer watch as it seeks a Christmas tree to be the centerpiece in Marietta Square this winter, and city staff is putting the call out to residents who might want to donate.

Almost any type of evergreen tree is acceptable, but Leyland cypress trees need not apply. Community engagement supervisor Maggi Moss said it’s nothing personal, but that species just doesn’t make a good Christmas tree.

“Their limbs are not sturdy enough, so whenever we put lights on, it droops,” she said. “It’s just really droopy-looking, not like a Christmas tree, more like a shrub. We really need a tree with sturdy limbs.”

Moss said the city used to get its yearly tree from a farm until prices spiked a few years ago.

“The good thing was the same year that happened, we had a retiree from Marietta who called us and said he had a tree he would love to donate,” Moss said. “So we went out and had a look, and it was perfect.”

Since then, the city has alternated between trees donated from residents and purchased from a landscaping company, but Moss said the city would love to start a tradition of showcasing a local tree’s talents each yuletide.

If you’ve got a tree you think could make the cut, you can email mmoss@mariettaga.gov or call 770-794-5609. Moss will come to your place with an arborist and tree crew in tow for a tree audition. If your tree cuts the mustard, a Marietta Power crew will cut it down and dress it up for Christmas.

Moss said if a tree finalist does not appear in two weeks, the city will buy a tree from a landscaper.

Barbara Dooley had the crowd in stitches as she shared stories about life with her husband, Coach Vince Dooley, during last week’s tribute to the couple at Vinings Bank.

Barbara Dooley, left, and Kennesaw State University President Pamela Whitten.

Mrs. Dooley said when she was a student at Auburn, “he chased me for four damn years. And all I could say was ‘There’s this old man trying to date me.’”

When the two came to Georgia the first year, she had two babies under 2 and was pregnant with the third.

“He was home 52 nights that year because he wanted to get to meet all the Georgia people. And so when he was in south Georgia, one of my sorority sisters came up to him and said ‘Coach, did you marry Barbara Meshad? And he said ‘Yes.’ She said ‘Oh, thank god. Some old man was after her.’ He said ‘I’m that old man.’”

Mrs. Dooley called her husband a wonderful man, saying they’ve made it almost 60 years together.

“But it’s still day to day, I have to tell you that. I tell him not to get cocky. And I think the reason we’ve made it this long is he’s let me fly. He has not tried to control me.”

One thing about Coach Dooley is that he concentrates 100 percent on what he’s doing at any given time.

“If he’s reading a book, you don’t talk to him. If he’s writing something, he is focused. If he’s gardening, whatever he’s doing, he’s the most focused person in the world.”

That turned out to be a problem when, during football season, he couldn’t seem to remember her birthday.

“Never. Came the same time every year,” she said. “And so one year I cried and carried on, and he came out with a white handkerchief, and he said, ‘I‘ll tell you what. Next year, give me a week’s notice, and we’ll never have to go through this again.’ I said ‘OK.’”

So the next year she reminded him over breakfast as he was reading the sports section.

“I said Vincent, my birthday is next Thursday. He said ‘uh-huh.’ He didn’t move the paper. I said, ‘Vincent, you told me to remind you, and I’m reminding you Thursday is my birthday. He says, ‘Uh-huh. What do you want?’

Men, Mrs. Dooley observed, can answer their wives despite having no clue what they are saying.

“I said ‘I want a divorce.’ Well he lowered the paper. He looked at me. He said “You know, Barbara, I wasn’t planning on spending quite that much.’ So he’s extremely focused.”

Another thing to know about her husband is that he’s a lover of history, and has led various historical groups. On one occasion, the couple drove to Atlanta to a board meeting of the American Battlefield Association.

“These are big-time historians. So I ask him something in the car, something about Robert E. Lee, and he looked at me, and he turned and he gave me this disgusted look, and he said ‘You know, Barbara, if I were you I would just be quiet tonight so nobody would see how ignorant you are.’ Do you know what that did to me?”

She didn’t say another word on the drive in.

“We get to Atlanta. Bo DuBose’s. I didn’t say a word. I walked right in. I went to the bar. I got a drink. I found me a corner and I sat down. Didn’t say a word to anybody. Finished my drink and I went back to the bar. Finally they call for dinner and they put me next to the president, and they seat Vince across the table. So they’re talking history. Finally the president looks at me and says ‘Barbara, you haven’t said a word. What do you do?’ I said ‘I pole dance.’ Now Vince is across the table and he’s gone blank. I don’t know where that came from. I said ‘To be honest with you, I don’t know one thing about history, but I can get my left leg up on that pole!’ Well that took care of the evening. So the next morning we’re walking to breakfast and the president is running behind me. He grabs me and he says ‘Barbara, can you teach my wife to pole?’”


POLITICAL PLATTER: The dirt is being flung in the race between Smyrna Councilwoman Maryline Blackburn and challenger Travis Lindley. Around Town doesn’t like to be in the center of things, but the fracas originated from content in this column.

The Blackburn campaign is crying foul. Monte Bye, Blackburn’s campaign manager, sent over the following statement:

“In a full page advertisement in the October issue of the Bright Side Community Paper the Travis Lindley campaign grossly misrepresented a September 20th MDJ Around Town article in a brazen attack on the integrity of Councilwoman Maryline Blackburn. While we have run a positive campaign focused on the issues, we understand politics can be dirty. This however, is beyond the pale even for a career lobbyist and self-described political ‘operative.’ They used an uncorroborated attack by a Lindley campaign surrogate that appeared in the article and made it look as if it was a direct quote from the MDJ. To erroneously quote a news organization to further a false campaign narrative is egregious behavior at best and potential far worse. Smyrna’s Ward 3 deserves better.”


DUDE (LOOKS LIKE A LADY): Young Americans for Freedom’s Kennesaw State University chapter is hosting Michael J. Knowles on Monday. His lecture is titled “Men Are Not Women and other Uncomfortable Truths.”

According to the event, Knowles “will be debunking myths by the left, including the notion that men can become women.”

The event will be held at 7 p.m. in KSU’s Convocation Center. Doors will open 30 minutes prior.


HISPANIC HERITAGE: Recall that Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon recently vetoed a vote by the Smyrna City Council to hold a Hispanic Heritage Month celebration at the same time as another fall event.

The veto hasn’t deterred the Smyrna United Task Force, the group that had originally planned to sponsor the event. In a news release, task force leader Mara Johnson notes they have installed an outdoor exhibit of photos and stories from Smyrna’s Hispanic voices in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. The exhibit will be on display through Oct. 27 at the 20th Century Veterans Memorial Lawn, 2800 King St., Smyrna.

“We believe that there is more that unites us than separates us, and by providing a glimpse into the unique lives and rich cultures here, we hope to build a more connected community,” Johnson said.


YOUR LOVE AMAZES ME: Five years in, it’s become a holiday kickoff tradition for hundreds of Mariettans.

Country music artist John Berry returns to the Marietta Performing Arts Center on Friday, Nov. 22, to start his annual Christmas tour.

Berry has recorded more than 20 studio albums — one platinum and two gold — and has charted 19 songs on the Billboard charts, including the 1994 No. 1 single “Your Love Amazes Me.”

“Christmas Songs and Stories with John Berry” comes to Marietta Performing Arts Center on Friday, Nov. 22.

If tradition holds, Berry will cover his hit country songs, plus some new ones, in the first half of the show. After intermission, he celebrates the season with Christmas tunes. (His rendition of “O Holy Night,” alone, is worth the price of admission.)

For those who follow the country crooner, Berry has been declared “cancer-free” after undergoing surgery in January on his throat, followed by chemo and radiation.

Berry and his band routinely spend a week rehearsing at the Marietta Performing Arts Center venue at Marietta High School before taking the show on the road. This year’s concert benefits MPAC.

Information and tickets: mpac.marietta-city.org.


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