Wednesday, June 16, 2021

In an apparent violation of Georgia’s sunshine laws, which require governments to be open and transparent, a Cobb school board public hearing on its fiscal 2022 budget Thursday afternoon was not broadcast live, and media was barred from observing in person.

When MDJ senior reporter Thomas Hartwell asked why a live stream of the hearing was not playing in the media room of the central office where he waited to watch (the district is still not allowing media into the board room, citing COVID-19 restrictions), district spokesperson Nan Kiel said she wasn’t sure whether it was supposed to be streamed or not.

In that case, Hartwell asked, could he enter the boardroom and listen in?

No, he was told, he could not.

David Hudson, general counsel for the Georgia Press Association, begs to differ.

The public must be admitted in person or by audio-video connection, he said, and yes, that includes media.

Incidentally, it’s not just media who’ve been banned from the boardroom for the past year, it’s the general public. Residents have only been allowed in the boardroom one at time to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting and are made to leave immediately after.

Keeping the general public outside during board meetings was not unreasonable at the height of the pandemic, but with Superintendent Chris Ragsdale ruling that students, staff and guests are no longer required to wear masks on school district property effective June 7, critics can’t help but wonder whether his decision to continue keeping the public outside has more to do with the controlling the meeting than anything pandemic related.

Chris Ragsdale

DEBATE OVER THEORY: In lockstep with the bitter division over critical race theory that was on display at Thursday’s Cobb school board meeting, local Republican and Democrat groups celebrated and decried, respectively, the board’s decision to adopt a resolution banning the instruction of the theory in Cobb Schools.

Shortly after the resolution’s adoption — the board’s four Republicans gave it the thumbs-up, while the three Democrats abstained — the Georgia 11th District Republican Party on Facebook patted the back of Cobb school board Chair Randy Scamihorn. Georgia’s 11th District covers a portion of the county.

Randy Scamihorn

“Thank YOU Chairman Randy Scamihorn for your leadership! Thank you to our Republican Board Members for standing up for our students,” the post reads.

Meanwhile, the Cobb County Democratic Committee Facebook page was less than enthusiastic.

“A shameful day in Cobb County when the Chair of the Cobb County School Board puts forth and passes a resolution banning something he cannot define nor cite any evidence of its presence in Cobb schools,” the post said, referring to an exchange between Scamihorn and Democratic board member Leroy “Tre” Hutchins. “He defends his position with a basic ‘people say’ argument referring to the news media, emails he has received which have not been made publicly available, and a handful of people who showed up to make public comment today. His inarticulate, bumbling statements calling CRT and the 1619 Project revisionist history belies his own ignorance and miseducation.”

Leroy “Tre” Hutchins

The post continues, saying Scamihorn “disgraced himself and our county school system today with this bit of political theater.”

“So much for keeping politics out of our children’s education.”

In Wednesday’s paper, Around Town compiled lists of all the candidates for the Marietta City Council and the Marietta Board of Education. All who we were aware of, that is.

It’s since been brought to our attention that a candidate plans to run for the Ward 6 seat held by Councilwoman Michelle Cooper Kelly.

André Sims, a Realtor with RE/MAX, is seeking the post, which is being vacated as Kelly runs against Mayor Steve Tumlin.

Sims tells us he’s lived in Ward 6 for 26 years. He is a graduate of Hampton University, a member of Turner Chapel AME Church, husband to educator Jill Sims and a father of two. He is a commissioner on the Marietta Housing Authority board and serves on the board of Habitat for Humanity.

As far as we know, he is the only candidate in the Ward 6 race so far.

Qualifying for the Nov. 2 Marietta elections will run from Aug. 16 – 18 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler is touting her work over the past weekend to pound the pavement on behalf of Republicans in the five-way special election to replace Bert Reeves. She was armed with door hangers and flyers (and by the looks of it, a paid photographer) calling on Republicans to “Stand up for election integrity!”

But Loeffler, and her group Greater Georgia, are not yet backing either Republican—Devan Seabaugh or David Blinkhorn. Instead, the idea seems to be to boost GOP turnout by trying to make the thus-far low-profile race into a referendum on Senate Bill 202, “cancel culture,” and Cobb’s loss of the All-Star Game.

“The All-Star Strike-Out Team lost us over $100 million in tourism and jobs,” blares one mailer, echoing the billboards Loeffler purchased earlier this year near Truist Park. A door hanger adds, “Now they are coming after our conservative state house seats to get rid of the election integrity act.”

A staffer for Greater Georgia says the group has put five figures into the race thus far, including a digital 30-second spot touching on many of the same themes. It seems fair to assume Loeffler will declare herself a grassroots organizing wizard if either Seabaugh or Blinkhorn can pull this one out. From there, it’s just a hop, skip, and a qualifying application to a 2022 bid.

Blinkhorn and Seabaugh made their case before members of the Cobb County Republican Women’s Club Wednesday night.

The two candidates were introduced by supporters. In the case of former Kennesaw Councilman David Blinkhorn, that meant his son, Garrett.

The young man concluded his speech — which was quite good — by telling the crowd, “this is just the next step in his journey — I was so excited to vote for him for Kennesaw City Council those years ago, I’m even more excited to vote for him now for House District 34. Without further ado, I want to welcome my dad, David Blinkhorn.”

Blinkhorn, clearly proud, took the mic. But before beginning his speech, he had to set the record straight.

“I do want to clarify something. Where did the reporter go? (Garrett) will NOT be voting for me because he doesn’t live in the district,” he said sheepishly. “So … a little slip of the tongue there.”

With Jason Shepherd’s losing bid for the top position in the Georgia GOP, AT asked him what was in store next, politically.

In short: “I’ll continue doing what I’ve always done,” he said. Shepherd is on the executive committee of the Cobb and Georgia GOP; is volunteer faculty at the Leadership Institute, a nonprofit training conservative activists; and plans on working with, an organization whose goal is to pass a constitutional amendment enshrining in law the current number of Supreme Court justices — nine. (The Constitution does not specify the number of justices the court must have.)

And, now that he is no longer a party officer, Shepherd can weigh in on primary elections.

“So the first thing I did is put a Brian Kemp sticker on my car,” he said.

Although Kemp was booed at the state GOP convention — something Shepherd says he was not present to see — he said conservative activists’ anger at Kemp was misguided. Had Kemp called a special session to try to overturn the results of the November election, as former President Donald Trump and conservative activists had requested, the governor would have wasted millions in taxpayer money on something the courts would have immediately shot down, Shepherd said.

As for Vernon Jones, he has been the subject of numerous scandals Democrats could weaponize in a general election, Shepherd said. And though the Democrat-cum-Republican had, before switching parties last year, long been a “DINO” — Democrat in name only — Shepherd said, he did take votes in the General Assembly that will give some conservatives pause. For example, he voted against Kemp’s anti-abortion Heartbeat Bill a couple years ago.

Shepherd declined to endorse a Republican in the race for House District 34, saying, “It’s not my fight, I just hope a Republican wins.”

That special election is Tuesday.

It was the Reggie “Gamechanger” Copeland show at the Marietta City Council’s Monday night work session.

Reggie Copeland

Copeland, the Ward 5 councilman, spent about an hour quarreling with his fellow elected officials over two related issues: raises in the city budget and the state of the city’s sanitation department.

The recommended budget from City Manager Bill Bruton, up for a vote Wednesday, includes 3% raises for all city staff, but Copeland wants that number to be 5%. Bruton said the 3% raises will cost about $1.4 million over the fiscal year 2022 budget, which runs for a year starting in July. Increasing the raises to 5% would cost another $1 million.

Asked whether a 5% raise was recommended, Bruton pointed out employees also received a 3% raise in January and said they would be getting “6% in six months.” The city is also in the process of conducting a pay study that will examine wages across departments and see if they are comparable to other cities.

To pay for his proposal, Copeland proposed using federal COVID-19 relief funds. But others pointed out those funds will come with strings attached. Plus, that money is a one-time payment, not enough to fund years of pay.

The Marietta Board of Lights and Water, a city-owned utility, transfers millions in profits into the city’s budget annually. Why, Copeland asked, could the BLW not simply increase its transfer from the proposed $13 million?

That could trigger power and water rate increases, Mayor Steve “Thunder” Tumlin said.

“Just like we have a duty to the taxpayer, the BLW has a duty to the ratepayer,” Hizzoner stated.

Steve Tumlin

Other council members said the BLW was not a “cash cow,” though Copeland insisted they had called it that before.

“It is a franchise fee, it is not a blank check,” said Councilwoman Michelle Cooper Kelly.

Kelly, a reliable voice of reason, questioned why 3% was not enough — in her world, corporate America, her company hadn’t given raises in the past two years.

Michelle Cooper Kelly

Councilwoman Cheryl Richardson took Copeland’s remarks personally.

“I am incensed at any inference that a 3% raise, which is 6% on the year, plus a bonus, plus coverage during the COVID, is any indication — as opposed to a 5% raise — that we don't care about everything that our employees do,” Richardson said.

Cheryl Richardson

Copeland backtracked, apologizing to Richardson and said he didn’t mean to imply the council didn’t care about employees. But he persisted with proposing the city further raid BLW coffers.

Councilman Andy Morris stated flatly that the BLW was part of the city.

“Thank you so much, I understand that,” Copeland responded.

“Sounds like you don’t understand it,” Morris retorted.

“You don’t know what I understand,” Copeland said.

“That’s for sure,” Morris added.

“You can take a long walk off a short cliff,” Copeland said.

Andy Morris

With a grin, the mayor asked, “does anybody object to this being on consent?”

Council moved on to Copeland’s other request. He had asked an item be placed on the Wednesday agenda titled “Sanitation Concerns.”

His concerns with the department include what he sees as low wages, as well as workers having to provide backdoor pickup of trash. Other bullet points under the item were “Boosting the MORALE,” “Innovation” and “Changing the culture by improving the efficiency of sanitation.”

Copeland claimed employees were being pulled from other departments because sanitation was having staffing issues. He said they were being “worked to death” and that the backdoor pickup was “ridiculous.” He invoked the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., who died in Memphis while supporting striking sanitation workers.

Other council members, though, pointed out the backdoor pickup service was grandfathered in — the service is not provided to new customers.

Council members asked city staff to check Copeland’s numbers. Bruton said the pay range for sanitation workers was $25,000 to $51,000. Public Works Director Mark Rice confirmed sanitation had eight vacancies.

“I don’t think you’re giving us the right numbers; I think you’re exaggerating these numbers for effect,” Councilman Grif Chalfant told Copeland.

Later, Copeland claimed one sanitation worker does 600 backdoor houses per day on a trash route.

“I got to call you on that one. 600?” Chalfant asked incredulously.

Grif Chalfant

“That’s what I was told,” Copeland insisted.

As the discussion wrapped up, Copeland shifted gears to accuse the city of only giving 3% raises “so that when the salary study comes back, it’ll look like we are higher than we are.”

Tumlin had had enough. He went back and forth with Copeland, telling him that was false while Copeland held firm.

The final exchange:

“I don’t like people to tell lies about what I said,” the typically courtly Tumlin said.

“I don’t tell lies,” Copeland responded.

“If you say that’s the reason I voted for that, that ain’t the truth,” Tumlin barked, before demanding to know where Copeland was getting his information.

“I don’t care about you shouting, that doesn’t mean anything to me,” Copeland said.

“You talk loud all the time; you don’t want us to speak up?” asked the mayor.

“Yeah, whatever,” Copeland said. “That getting loud and thunderous doesn’t bother me, it really doesn’t.”

“Well, I’m thunder,” Thunder said. “And I’m thundering.”

“You thunder, and I’m lightning,” Copeland said with a chortle.

Copeland, the mayor and the rest of the council are all up for reelection in November. 

CANDIDATES: With a hectic election cycle in store for Marietta this November — on Nov. 2, the entire city school board is up for election, as is the City Council and mayor — AT wanted to give Marietta voters a one-stop shop for who’s running and who isn’t to date. 

Qualifying for the Nov. 2 Marietta elections will run from Aug. 16 – 18 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Mayor Steve “Thunder” Tumlin is looking for a fourth term at the helm of the city. His City Council colleague, Ward 6 Councilwoman Michelle Cooper Kelly, is mounting a challenger campaign. Kelly’s bid for mayor leaves the Ward 6 race wide open. As far as we know, nobody’s declared for that race yet.

In Ward 1, Cheryl Richardson plans to seek a second term.

Ward 2 Councilman Grif Chalfant is seeking a fifth term but has drawn a challenger in John Silvey, a Zaxby’s franchise owner.

Ward 3 Councilman Johnny Walker is looking to serve a third term.

Ward 4 Councilman Andy Morris is seeking a fifth term but also has a challenger — Ted Ferreira, principal of CD+M Lighting Design Group.

We haven’t heard from Copeland about whether he intends to seek a second term, but way back in June 2019, Ernest Bell contacted us to say he would seek the Ward 5 seat. However, Bell told Around Town he has since moved to Dallas, Georgia, and therefore won't be running.

Finally, in Ward 7, Councilman Joseph Goldstein will seek a second term.

On the Marietta Board of Education, AT has previously reported that Alan Levine, of Ward 1; Randy Weiner, of Ward 3; and Allison Gruehn, of Ward 4, have announced they won’t seek reelection.

So far, the paper has only heard of two candidates running to replace outgoing board members: A.B. Almy — an educator and Marietta mother of three with experience serving on school governance teams and other service positions locally — says she'll run to succeed Weiner. And George Darden — a Marietta native, Marietta High alum, professor at Georgia Gwinnett College and father of two — has announced he’ll run to replace Gruehn.

Meanwhile, Ward 2 board member Jason Waters; board Chairwoman Angela Orange, of Ward 5; Vice Chairwoman Kerry Minervini, of Ward 6; and Ward 7 board member Irene Berens say they will seek reelection.

Waters will be running for his third term, and Minervini will be running for her second full term — she was first elected in 2017 in a special election and served six months before facing another election. Berens will be running for her sixth term.

Orange’s conversation with AT served as her first public announcement of her intentions to run for a second term, she said.

Orange said she’ll be laser-focused over the summer, in the next school year and in her next term — if she retains her seat — on “learning recovery” after more than a full school year kneecapped by COVID-19.

Orange cited a study of metro Atlanta school districts by Georgia State University that found students were up to eight months behind in math and seven months behind in reading.

“So I’ll definitely be focused on learning recovery,” she said.


Credit Donna Rowe, who served as moderator, for not sticking to the softballs in this week's panel discussion by the Board of Commissioners in front of the Cobb Association of Realtors.

“We have been watching with great interest and deep concern the dialogue of the past week,” Rowe began, reading from a submitted inquiry. It was headed toward what else—Dobbins Air Reserve Base. 

Donna Rowe

In a partisan 3-2 vote on May 18, commissioners approved a rezoning proposal to allow Venture Communities to build a 38-unit condominium in the "accident potential zone" of the base. The board's three Democrats, Commissioners Jerica Richardson, Monique Sheffield, and Chairwoman Lisa Cupid, voted in favor over objections from Dobbins, the Cobb Chamber of Commerce and a recommended denial by the Cobb Planning Commission.

The meat of the question was as follows: “In your zoning conditions, did you require the builder/developer to inform all real estate agents and buyers that they are buying in a potential crash zone?”

A point of particular relevance to that audience, but one really best posed directly to Commissioner Jerica Richardson, who represents the area. The other commissioners took the occasion largely as an opportunity to reiterate the reasons for their vote.

“For me, it was a safety issue,” said Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, who voted against the request. “I don't want to be liable for something like that, should it happen. Heaven forbid it doesn’t."

“I’ve served on the board for eight years and seen multiple decisions that impact Dobbins ... I don’t know what makes us an easy target," Cupid chimed in, the "us" presumably referring to herself and her two Democratic colleagues. 

Lisa Cupid

Richardson noted that her zoning decision had come with a host of stipulations, some of which were provided and recommended by the Department of Defense, intended to mitigate the risk posed by the condo complex’s location.

“It was a very collaborative effort for us to come to what could be reasonable, and what would not hurt us when it came to a BRAC (base closure),” she said.

As Richardson wrapped up her response, Rowe and Cupid seemed to notice something—the question hadn’t exactly received an answer. Cupid spoke up on behalf of her junior colleague.

Jerica Richardson

“You asked a very specific question that I believe deserves a very specific response,” Cupid said. “I believe this is something that we should follow up on, and if it hasn’t been clearly stipulated, we can go back and add that stipulation.”

In so many words—we’ll get an answer and get back to you on that.

AG INVESTIGATION: House District 34 residents and others will recall that Democrat Priscilla Smith had been accused of election fraud by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.

Smith, a teacher and artist famous (sort of) for dressing up as “Donna Trump” and protesting at the Gold Dome, ran last November against then-state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, who won handily but has since resigned to take a job at Georgia Tech.

Last year, we reported Smith had claimed two primary residences: her family house in HD34, whose address she provided when qualifying for the race, and her house in Atlanta, for which she had been claiming a homestead property tax exemption. Although Smith told us she had been living in Marietta the past five years and had simply forgotten about the homestead exemption, we also found she had voted in Atlanta as recently as 2018.

Priscilla Smith

So, what of the Secretary of State’s accusation? Well, they turned over the investigation to the Georgia Attorney General. Thursday, a spokesperson for the AG’s office told us this:

“This matter is still pending and we are unable to comment.”

The matter seems to leave Stacey Abrams' Fair Fight juggernaut untroubled. Smith is boasting that Fair Fight has endorsed her in the June 15 special election. 

CONTINUING EDUCATION: Former Cobb Chairman Mike Boyce is going back to school.

In August, he and wife Judy will begin an academic year as Fellows in the Inspired Leadership Initiative at Boyce’s alma mater, the University of Notre Dame.

The program, according to the university’s website, is “for accomplished individuals from all disciplines (business, non-profit, and academic, to name a few) who have completed their chosen careers and wish to spend an academic year at Notre Dame — taking advantage of the University's vast array of resources — to pivot to their next stage in life.”

The Notre Dame program further describes itself as a “unique opportunity to reflect on the past and shape the direction of their future, while also sharing wisdom, experience, and knowledge with the Notre Dame community.”

“It’ll be just like going to school for a year,” Boyce told Around Town, adding he and Judy will be auditing courses as well as mentoring students. He also plans to draw on his military background and get involved in veterans affairs on the South Bend, Ind., campus.

For Boyce, it’s familiar turf – or frozen tundra depending on the time of year. He attended the university from 1967 to ‘71 (and is quick to point out that he was just about bookended by national football championships. The Ara Parseghian-coached Fightin’ Irish teams were national champions in ‘66 and ‘73.)

The Boyces are currently looking for off-campus housing. But this South Bend sabbatical is no indication of a Cobb departure. Mike and Judy are keeping their local home and plan to return to Cobb when the program ends next May.

While AT had the former chairman’s attention, we were hoping to get his comments on ongoings in Cobb politics. He played it close to the vest. He said he has no intention of interfering with the work of his successor Lisa Cupid, who beat him in the 2020 election, explaining his predecessors, Tim Lee and Sam Olens, reserved comment on his governance and he plans to do the same for the current administration.

AT did, however, coax him into a few observations:

On the current flap over commission approval of condos being built in Dobbins’ Accident Potential Zone: “Those poor people who will live in those condos … noise complaints are going to be the bigger deal.”

On Chairwoman Cupid’s indication that the county millage rate will not be raised: “I support no millage rate increase.”

Judy and Mike Boyce

On the likelihood of Mobility SPLOST sales tax passage and what projects should be on the wish list: “This county is going to 1 million people … I think they say by 2040 … more than 90% of the people love their cars … and they won’t see a (heavy rail) train move people for another generation. Trains will require more taxes than just the SPLOST revenue.” He added he likes the way Georgia DOT is constructing additional lanes across the top of the I-285 arc.

On his interest in ever running for elected office again: “Politics holds no allure.”

On the state of the Republican party: “I am persona non grata with the Republican party.”

Boyce said he’s proud of his four years as chair.

“I think I applied my skillset to the best interests of the county and left the county in a good position.” And said he gave it his all, explaining that during his term he dedicated six and a half days per week to the job.

Time since leaving office has included a lot of travel and making up for missed time with five grandchildren. The excursion to the Midwest will interrupt that leisure, but there are other possible rewards. The final Associated Press poll for the 2020 college football season had the Irish ranked fifth. Boyce has given himself another shot at being on campus for a national championship.

As graduates walk the stage in Cobb this commencement season, there's plenty of advice flying around for the students heading off on their own for the first time.

David Banks

In the wake of the most serious days of the pandemic, that advice — from commencement speakers, parents and teachers — has often been that human connections are the key to a happy life. But some parting notes for graduates have taken on a different tone, like the thoughts Cobb school board Vice Chair David Banks had for the classes in his district. At Pope High School's graduation, Banks started by asking how many students remembered their kindergarten teacher, a question that saw a smattering of hands rise out of the sea of graduation caps.

"Those were good days, weren't they?" Banks said. "Being in kindergarten, you were very lovable. But you grew up to be teenagers and started driving. Your parents — they know what I'm referencing."

Banks reminded the students of the family that has loved and supported them for their years through school and that they'd been born or lived in "the greatest nation the world has ever known, the United States of America," a statement that received cheers from the crowd. He reminded the students of the benefits they'd reaped from growing up in the age of "Chick-fil-a, iPhone, iPad, GPS and social media."

Finally, he told the students to remember three numbers: 10, 40 and 60. In 10 years, he told them, most of them would be parents.

"Let me tell you what your mothers are thinking: I am too young to be a grandmother," he said, prompting laughter from the families in the stands.

In 10 years, the word "no" will also take on a different perspective, Banks said looking out over the students, and "you will also be amazed how wise your parents really are and how much you will depend on them."

The phrase, 'Clean up your room' will be just as frustrating for you as it has been for your parents," he said.

In 40 years most of the students will be grandparents, and that time will come faster than you think, Banks said. At that point two things will happen, he said: "For the men, there will be a substantial reduction in hair follicles," Banks said, to another rumble of laughter. "And there will be a restoration of baby fat, and it will be concentrated. And your wife may comment (that) it is not attractive. Sorry to burst your bubble, grads. But just enjoy the metabolism while you can."

Rather conspicuously, though, the "60" went unaddressed. So, naturally, AT had to follow up and find out.

"I don't ever explain the 60," Banks told the paper. "I leave it off to just see if anybody ever asks me. A few people do. It's just a little gimmick to see — 'Are people listening?'"

Now that you've asked, Banks offered, the 60 represents the fact that in 60 years, "I will still be older than they are."

"Of course, I'll be dead by then, but I'll still be older," the 82-year-old board member said.

THE DOBBINS DECISION: Sheila Edwards, who lost to Commissioner Monique Sheffield in last year's runoff for the District 4 seat on the Cobb Board of Commissioners, is out with a stinging rebuke of Chairwoman Lisa Cupid in her Spotlight South Cobb News publication.

Sheila Edwards

The article denounces Cupid’s decision to allow a developer to build a condo complex in the accident zone of Dobbins Air Reserve Base.

From the article: “... political pundits in Cobb point to what everyone whispered when Cupid ran for the top seat — that she does not know how to lead, she is incapable of building coalitions, and she does not have the right temperament for the top job in Cobb. They point to her single superpower — an ability to hold on to grudges and strike out at those who she believed wronged her in some way when she served as commissioner — a trait the voters were not made aware of but are certainly witnessing now.”

The article goes on to reference the make up of the five member Board of Commissioners, an all-female board controlled by three Black Democratic women.

“If whites make comments, it will be perceived as racially biased. If blacks make comments, it will be perceived as attacking one of our own. If men make comments, it would be perceived as misogynistic. If the left or right makes comments, it will be perceived as politically driven. If every group who wanted to comment on their government were silenced, who would hold elected officials accountable? The honest concerns over Dobbins by people who care about Cobb has nothing to do with racism, sexism, or party affiliation, but everything to do with the desire and demand for sound leadership, common sense decision making, and good government — which are demands of the people of Cobb. ... Cupid herself has tried to interlace her conversations on Dobbins with the race and sex of the members. This is again a mistake on Cupid's part as our community will not be silenced because of our demographics when we see incompetency at work.”

Lisa Cupid

The piece calls on Cupid to “reject and remove these distractions from the real issue, which is Dobbins, nothing else. As our country goes through a reckoning about race and equal pay for equal work, we understand that there may be times that these topics may come into play, however, this is not one of those times, so refocus your time and energy on the real issues Chair.”

Johnny Joey Jones left the Cobb County Republican Women’s Club in stitches when he spoke at their May luncheon. Though he promised to avoid politics during his speech, he did have a fun anecdote to share about his encounter with former President Barack Obama.

If you’ll recall from our coverage of the luncheon in Saturday’s paper, Jones retired from the Marine Corps after losing both his legs when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan.

He has since become a motivational speaker, leadership consultant and military policy advisor. His bio, dutifully read before he took the stage at the luncheon, includes this line:

“In 2012, President Barack Obama invited Jones to the White House to discuss challenges facing active duty and retired service members.”

It was the first thing Jones addressed when he took the stage.

“You hear this bio read, what’s funny about it is, you can put some stuff on paper and word it correctly and sound really good. ‘Jones had a dinner with President Obama in the White House where he got to discuss things about veterans policy.’ That’s true,” he said. “The rest of that story is, I sat elbow-to-elbow with President Obama. He looked at me … and he goes, ‘Johnny, if you were back in Afghanistan right now in the same place, what would you do differently?’ And there were a bunch of generals around the table and I said, ‘President, I’d step left.’”

As Jones tells it, Obama did not appreciate the joke.

“It made him so mad he skipped dessert. I’m not lying,” Jones said, smiling.

PUBLIC ART: About a month ago, the Justin Fields mural in Kennesaw got a little touch-up to reflect the fact that the football phenom had been drafted by the Chicago Bears.

Fields’ jersey was painted with the blue and orange of the Bears after Fields, who led Ohio State to a national championship appearance last year, was selected as a first-round draft pick. As the MDJ previously reported, the mural of the former Harrison High School quarterback was originally painted in grey tones, part of a collaboration between the NFL, Nike, Bose and Pisano's Pizzeria and Italian Kitchen, the eatery whose wall bears the mural.

But those parties apparently neglected to jump through the proper municipal government hoops before doing so.

The Kennesaw City Council’s Tuesday night work session agenda reveals that “the business owner installed the art exhibit prior to approval by the city which violated the zoning ordinance pertaining to proper approval procedures as per section 2.03.05. City staff issued a citation.”

Now, however, the mural seems set for retroactive approval. The Kennesaw Art and Culture Commission reviewed an application and is, along with city staff, recommending the City Council give the mural its blessing.

Cobb’s power brokers inducted two new members into their circle last week at the monthly board meeting of the Cumberland Community Improvement District (CID).

Alex Valente and Chris McCoy were elected by acclamation into the CID’s board in the organization’s first fully in-person meeting in over a year. Valente is an exec at Piedmont Office Realty Trust, owner of the Galleria Atlanta’s office complex in Cumberland. McCoy, meanwhile, comes from Cumberland Mall’s owner, Brookfield Properties.

The pair replaced board members Mason Zimmerman, an 18-year veteran of the body, and Steven Barnhouse.

As the board waited for the official vote to be called, Bob Voyles—who skidded up to the CID’s offices in an antique roadster—reminisced on Zimmerman’s tenure on the board.

“There was one particular meeting I remember in the old (Cobb Chamber of Commerce) building. We were trying to advance this notion that we were very excited about bringing multi-family into the tax base for the CID,” Voyles said. “And a former commission chair kind of launched into a diatribe on all that, and Mason could see me getting red, and the heat coming up out of my neck … and he said, ‘Just—just be quiet.’ It was the best advice that he had ever given me."

Bob Voyles

Valente and McCoy were both nominated by Vice Chair Connie Engel, and were unopposed in their candidacies. Eschewing the byzantine elections process which delegates votes to owners proportional to the number and value of their properties, the board opted for a simple round of “ayes.”

Chairman John Shern was reelected in a landslide — running unopposed, and donning a blazer, slacks, and socks with sandals to his re-coronation. Such, we suppose, are the pleasures of retirement.

One reaches for a comparison to the collision seen this week between Chairwoman Lisa Cupid and the Cobb Chamber of Commerce: Ali vs. FrazierBuckley vs. Vidal? Athens vs. Persia?

“Under Chairwoman Cupid’s leadership, we have lost the All-Star Game. Our community better start to realize the direction of our county. And hopefully we do not lose Dobbins … Dobbins is too vital to risk,” Cobb Chamber of Commerce Chairman John Loud said following Tuesday's commission meeting.

At that meeting, Loud and other heavyweights warned of the risk Cupid and her fellow Democrats on the board, Jerica Richardson and Monique Sheffield, were making in recently approving a condominium to be erected in the accident zone of Dobbins Air Reserve Base, something both Dobbins and the chamber asked them not to do. 

On Thursday, Cupid sent the Journal an email making the case that the chamber was applying a double standard to the condo development because it supported the Atlanta Braves' Truist Park and Thyssenkrupp's 420-foot-tall elevator testing tower despite reports that they would both have an impact on Dobbins. (For more on this, see MDJ reporter Chart Riggall's story on today's front page.)

Gov. Brian Kemp has also weighed in on the topic, providing the Journal with the following statement: 

Brian Kemp

“Given the recent zoning decision may negatively impact Dobbins Air Reserve Base in future Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) processes, and private sector partners like Lockheed Martin, I urge the Cobb County Commission to study this issue further. If – after an in-depth review of the relevant facts and input from the local community and our federal partners – it is determined that this development does not pose a risk to Dobbins, it is fully within the board’s authority to proceed. However, the potential risks of approving a new development within the Accident Potential Zone - without a final determination on the impact on Dobbins, the local community, countless businesses, and our state - are far too high and could have a generational impact on us all.”

Lisa Cupid

Around Town asked former Commissioner Bob Ott, who represented the area in question before retiring last year, what he made of the flap.

"Like I said many, many times, at any time one party or the other asks for additional time for review, it was always my philosophy and belief that that should be granted. And so in the past, if further time was asked for for review, I was always inclined to give it and agree with it," Ott said. 

Words his successor, Democrat Jerica Richardson, would be wise to heed given her refusal to reconsider her vote. Let's all keep in mind that the Dobbins, Lockheed and Georgia Tech Research Institute campus have an over $5.1 billion collective economic impact on Cobb County and Georgia.

FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE: Cobb school board member Leroy Tre’ Hutchins is puzzled.

Speaking on his “Coffee Talk with Tre” Facebook program, he wondered out loud “where the excitement and the energy is coming from” regarding critical race theory, an academic concept that says racism is not merely the product of individual prejudice but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.

Hutchins was referring to the parents who had addressed the school board during the public comment portion of its last meeting.

Leroy Tre’ Hutchins

“I don’t live under a rock, but I am not up to speed on critical race theory and this is probably the second or third time I’ve heard it, so I was like, hmmm. The first time I heard it I was like, OK, this is interesting, but it did not spark me enough to want to go and research," Hutchins said on his program. 

After hearing the parents talk about it at the board meeting, however, Hutchins said he Googled the topic and saw statements made by Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia Schools Superintendent Richard Woods on the issue (they oppose it).

“I don’t have all the ins and outs on it, but what I can gather is many people are misinformed. And I was able to gather that within 20 minutes of scouring Google and actually going straight to information in regards to critical race theory,” Hutchins said, adding “and I’m not sure if that’s even a theory any longer, and so I still have to do some research to figure this out myself, but I’m not sure the Cobb County School District or any school district in Georgia is (subscribing) to critical race theory, as it does not align with Georgia standards and our Georgia Teaching Standards that we currently have in place. So I’m not sure where the excitement and the energy is coming from. But I will keep my eye out on it.”

In a recent PBS News Hour segment praised and promoted on social media by Cobb school board member Dr. Jaha Howard, John Nwosu, a seventh and eighth grade counselor at Cobb County's Garrett Middle School, said diversity, equity and inclusion practices, as well as tenants of critical race theory and social emotional learning are an important part of his job as a counselor and of the equality of students’ educational experiences as a whole.

Nwosu’s appearance flies in the face of the parents, who spoke against CRT, some calling it “Marxist” and “evil” and one person comparing it to the teachings of Mao Zedong.

Nwosu described critical race theory and other diversity, equity and inclusion measures as a recognition of the fact that “our country was built on racism and the fact that stuff still exists today and is perpetuated in really interesting ways.”

He acknowledged, however, the political implications of simply uttering the words “critical race theory.”

“It’s like a social faux pas to bring this stuff up. People look uncomfortable, people start fidgeting a little bit when you bring this stuff up,” he said. “The biggest thing is acknowledging there’s a problem. And especially if you’re a white person, it’s OK to be uncomfortable.”

SPEAKER CIRCUIT: June speakers for the Kiwanis Club of Marietta have been announced:

  • June 3 – Dr. Robin Cheramie, dean, Coles College of Business, Kennesaw State University.
  • June 10 – Michelle Christensen, Federal Aviation Administration STEM program, which exposes students to aviation and aerospace careers.
  • June 17 – Sabu Sengova, ethics officer, city of Atlanta.
  • June 24 – Andy Crowe, former Marietta Kiwanis member and world sailing traveler.

The club meets at 12:15 p.m. Thursdays at the Marietta Conference Center with an option to attend virtually. To register for in-person attendance or to receive a Zoom invitation, please contact Executive Director Pat Huey at

TRANSITIONS: Two Cobb departments have had shakeups at the top level.

Michael Brantley, who has served as the county’s interim parks director since late 2020, was named the permanent director at Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting. Brantley was promoted from operations division manager of the department in November after then-director Jimmy Gisi was named deputy county manager.

Erica Parish, meanwhile, has stepped down from her job running the Cobb Department of Transportation. Parish is headed to a gig with Paulding County. She’ll be replaced in the interim by Deputy Director Drew Raessler, who’s spent time as an engineer in Cobb, and also worked a stint running transportation and public works for Athens-Clarke County government.

APPOINTMENTS: Cobb Superior Court Chief Judge Rob Leonard has announced his appointments to run two of Cobb’s accountability courts.

Judge Mary Staley Clark will serve as presiding judge for the county’s Drug Treatment Court, a 12 to 18 month program which works to reduce substance abuse. The court has 59 active participants and has had over 500 graduates since its inception.

Judge Ann Harris, meanwhile, will continue to supervise Parental Accountability Court, and adds to her duties the Mental Health Court.

{photoSource} Content Exchange{/photoSource} Harry Truman

On this Memorial Day weekend, we leave you with the words of President Harry Truman: "Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices."

Jerica Richardson

As reported in Tuesday’s MDJ, the three Democrats on the Cobb Board of Commissioners who last week ignored not only the Cobb Chamber of Commerce and Dobbins Air Reserve Base, but their own Cobb County Planning Commission by saying yes to a developer to build a condominium in Dobbins’ accident potential zone, provoked a scathing response from the business community.

Around Town can’t recall the last time Cobb’s business leaders have responded in such a manner to the Board of Commissioners.

Nevertheless, newly elected Commissioner Jerica Richardson, who represents the area, appears to be digging in her heels, arguing she had to vote for the development else the developer would have sued. Her argument begs the question: Why bother having commissioners vote on zoning decisions at all if they have to rubber stamp whatever comes along for fear of a condo developer's lawsuit?

The letter in question, sent by 12 former Chamber of Commerce chairmen, deserves to be quoted in full. Titled “Commission Majority Puts Dobbins and Lockheed at Risk,” the letter states:

“We write collectively as twelve former Chairs of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce and as concerned citizens of our County to express our deep disappointment and fundamental disagreement with the 3-2 vote of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners to approve the 38-unit condo development at the end of Leland Drive. This unfortunate and dangerous decision to allow construction of these units in the “Accident Potential Zone” of Dobbins Air Reserve Base not only puts at needless risk the future of Dobbins but also the Lockheed manufacturing facility adjacent to the base.

“For many years, the County Commission, the Cobb Chamber, our citizens, and the business community have worked hand-in-hand to insure the future of Dobbins and Lockheed. We have a well deserved reputation as a supportive community who understands the needs of these critical facilities and who will work tirelessly to keep Dobbins in the best possible posture to survive the periodic reviews by the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission.

“Now, for the first time in the history of our county, Commission Chair (Lisa) Cupid and Commissioners Richardson and (Monique) Sheffield have rejected the recommendations of the military leaders of Dobbins, the Chamber which has worked closely with that leadership for decades and the County Planning Commission. These Commissioners ignored all the relevant opinions to approve unneeded multi family housing units that will be located in the Accident Potential Zone of takeoffs and landings at Dobbins. Most harmful, they also completely disregarded the warning of past BRAC Commissioners who made clear that preserving the Accident Potential Zone should be Cobb’s number one priority to better insure Dobbins would not be closed.

Lisa Cupid

Monique Sheffield

“This unfortunate decision speaks too clearly that the needs of Dobbins and the safety of the surrounding area are no longer a priority of a majority of our commissioners. Their action puts a cloud over the future viability of the base and the economic benefits we all enjoy and possibly the future of Lockheed which is dependent on the base being open. The potential negative impact to the hardworking people of this County cannot be overstated.

“Unfortunately, a bare majority of the Commission, on a divisive party-line vote, has made a regrettable and rushed decision with irrevocable ramifications that could well undo the work of literally our entire community over many, many years – Republicans and Democrats and Independents who have worked to make Cobb a military friendly community based on actions not words. The majority’s decision sends an entirely different message, and one that puts at risk what so many have worked to build and sustain for our future.

“We urge Commission Chair Cupid and Commissioners Richardson and Sheffield to reconsider their vote and make the right decision for Dobbins, Lockheed and our community.”

The 12 former chamber chairs who signed the letter are Ben Mathis, Gary Bottoms, David Connell, Terry DeWitt, Rob Garcia, Sam Kelly, Tad Leithead, Greg Morgan, Bob Prillaman, Mitch Rhoden, Trey Sanders and Earl Smith.

Ben Mathis

The chamber reports that Dobbins, Lockheed and Georgia Tech Research Institute which form the campus in question have an over $5.1 billion collective economic impact on Cobb County and Georgia.

Commissioners were scheduled to meet Tuesday evening for their regular non zoning meeting. Whether they choose to reconsider their vote remains to be seen. 

POLITICAL PLATTER: Ward 7 Marietta school board member Irene Berens tells AT she is seeking another term on the Marietta Board of Education.

On Nov. 2, the entire Marietta school board is up for election, as is the Marietta City Council and mayor. 

"I plan to run again representing Ward 7 and all the students, teachers, administrators and parents in our system. I also want to continue my commitment to the city of Marietta and make the best use of our tax receipts."

In her announcement, Berens said the board has been a careful steward of tax dollars while delivering excellent academic results. She said it has only once raised the millage rate for a small amount to fund a building project.

Irene Berens

"After the project was complete, we returned to the lower rate as promised. MCS has maintained one of the lowest millage rates in the entire metro Atlanta area. MCS continues to embrace our changing futures due to hard work, innovative thinking by Boards of Education, excellent superintendents and administrations and committed staff and parents. I love Marietta City Schools. My husband and both my children are blessed to be proud graduates. We all bleed Marietta Blue. I hope to use my 20 years of experience to continue to make Marietta “Special, Different, Better.”

APPOINTMENTS: Michael Hughes, former head of Cobb County's economic development office, has been appointed to the Cobb County Planning Commission by Commissioner Monique Sheffield.

Hughes, who was head of Cobb's economic development office since October 1998, left the job in February 2020 to become executive director of Paulding County's economic development department.

Michael Hughes

Hughes replaces outgoing Chairman Galt Porter, who resigned this month after tangling with the Board of Commissioners. Porter — an eight-year vet of the body — was widely lauded by his colleagues as a judicious, Solomonesque figure who worked hard to balance the competing demands of development and cranky neighbors (though west of Barrett Parkway, you’ll hear a different tune). Here’s hoping Hughes can fill those shoes.

RIP: Former Smyrna Mayor Harold Smith, 91, considered the guardian of the city’s past, died peacefully at home on Saturday.

Smith and his late wife, Betty, were among those who chartered the Smyrna Historical & Genealogical Society in 1985. One of their reasons for doing this was to establish a museum for the public, a goal that was realized seven years later when the Smyrna Museum opened in the city's old health clinic building across the street from city hall. The city razed that building as part of its downtown redevelopment efforts, moving the collection to its present home near the entrance of Smyrna Market Village in 1999.

In a 2017 MDJ interview, Smith observed how museum visitors can see the town's history in a variety of displays with artifacts dating back to as early as 1832.

"So many people are moving in here," Smith said of Smyrna. "But half the people don't even know this town's got any history."

Smith watched Smyrna change dramatically over his lifetime. The quiet Georgia town of his youth grew into a bustling extension of Atlanta. He emphasized the need for residents new and old to take an interest in Smyrna's past. If for no other reason, he said, to prevent the mistakes of the past from being repeated.

"When you don't care about your history," Smith said, "you do the same thing over and over again."

A funeral service will be held 11 a.m. Saturday, May 29, at the Smyrna First Baptist Church with Dr. Jeff Pennington officiating. Interment will be in the Smyrna Cemetery. The family will receive friends from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, May 28, at the Carmichael Funeral Home in Smyrna.

In this November 2019 file photo, Harold Smith looks on at the celebration of the museum’s opening. For years, Smith collected and preserved artifacts from the city’s history as a labor of love.

76 TROMBONES: The Marietta High School Celebration Parade, honoring the Homecoming Court, Girls and Boys Cross Country State Champions, and Girls Basketball State Champions, kicks off at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

The parade begins at the corner of Lemon and Church streets, circles Marietta Square, and ends at Northcutt Stadium.

Come hear the Marietta Drumline and cheer for these outstanding Blue Devils.

“This is definitely not a part-time job, even though it’s classified as one,” former Cobb County Commissioner Bob Weatherford once told the Journal.

How much do commissioners take home for their "part-time" services? The question arose earlier this month when Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill leveling a pay disparity among Cobb's four elected commissioners.

Longtime District 2 Commissioner Bob Ott for years declined any pay raises in the spirit of government frugality. But Ott’s willingness to forgo pay hikes created a historical quirk leaving his successor Jerica Richardson, who was elected in November, at a pay level below her peers.

Jerica Richardson

Under state law, each commissioner is paid a base salary of $48,411 (Chairwoman Lisa Cupid, whose job is considered full time, gets a heftier check of $140,582). The lower salary for the District 2 post, however, was enshrined by legislators in 2017, leaving Richardson to only collect around $45,800.

Lisa Cupid

State Rep. Erick Allen, D-Smyrna, filed House Bill 724 this session to even things out after being alerted to the disparity by the county manager’s office. Allen’s bill enjoyed the support of several of his Democratic colleagues, along with former State Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta. The bill went on to be passed by the House and Senate in near-unanimous votes, with none of Cobb’s legislators voting against it.

An open records request filed by the MDJ showed the total cost for representative democracy extends beyond the base salary noted above.

Upon election, commissioners can take a 66-hour course from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government to attain the rank of "Certified County Commissioner.” Completion of the one-time program nets them an extra $100 per month on their paycheck.

Also factor in guidelines from the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), which prescribes cost-of-living and tenure adjustments. In 11 of the last 20 years, the General Assembly passed cost-of-living raises ranging from 1-3.5% per year. Commissioners also receive a 2.5% raise after one four-year term completed, a 5% raise after two terms, a 7.5% raise after three terms, and 10% after four four-year terms (the tenure adjustment is capped at 10%).

Each commissioner and the chair also receives a $7,200 per year travel allowance.

All told, Commissioner Keli Gambrill therefore receives a total pay of $56,811, including her certification supplement. Commissioner Monique Sheffield receives $55,611, as she does not yet receive the certification bonus. Richardson previously received $53,077.41, but will be raised to Sheffield’s level with House Bill 724’s signing. Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, meanwhile, brings home $59,342.45, receiving an extra bump for her two terms of service completed.

Keli Gambrill

Monique Sheffield

JoAnn Birrell

Chairwoman Cupid, meanwhile, makes a total of $149,031.35.

Commissioners further receive the standard benefits of other county employees that include health and dental insurance, and at least 13 days of paid time off. Other expenses for the commissioners come in the form of office renovations, and technology costs.

As of March 2021, $64,305 from the county’s fiscal 2021 general interior renovation fund was spent on renovations for commissioners’ offices. County records showed $23,462 went to painting, $17,878 went to cabinets and supplies, $1,449 went to signage, $20,136 went to furniture, and $1,378 to accessories.

Each commissioner is also provided with one assistant, while Cupid has two in her employ. Their salaries range from $52,018 to $78,000.

All told, $1,078,435 is the budgeted figure in fiscal 2021 to pay for the Cobb Board of Commissioners, per the county.

So, to readers stuck in a low-wage gig with poor benefits — have you thought about running for office?

Brian Kemp

THE CRT DEBATE: Talk of critical race theory seems to be everywhere of late. The state of Idaho banned it, an effort other states are trying to copy. This week, Gov. Brian Kemp urged the Georgia Board of Education to eliminate the "dangerous ideology" from the school curriculum. Thursday, a number of parents addressed the Cobb school board on the topic. One speaker tied critical race theory with what the three Democrats on the board were doing in asking the school district's accreditation body to investigate the school system. 

“Look at what politics is doing,” the speaker said. “Radical members of this committee are holding hostage the educational future of our kids over ideology with this shameful accreditation issue. This is educational terrorism. It’s not serving the people ... It’s punishing their children. It’s what Marxists do. And it’s evil."

Cobb school board member Charisse Davis, one of the three Democrats, fired back in a post on her Facebook page. 

Charisse Davis

“The Critical Race Theory (CRT) debate has been bizarre...mainly how it became a scripted conservative talking point 40+ years after its inception. Tonight at least one parent accused three of us of trying to bring it into our schools and more talked about it more generally. Just a couple of issues here - I would struggle to give you a complete definition of all that CRT entails and let's admit that three people on a board of seven would not be responsible for CRT (OR the mask decision you don't like for that matter). And please stop sharing MLK quotes in the arguments against CRT. MLK was considered a radical and paid for it with his life. #criticalthinkingskills,” Davis posted.

So what is critical race theory? A May 18 article in Education Week by Stephen Sawchuk, defines it this way: “The core idea is that racism is a social construct, and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.”

ON ACCURACY OR LACK THEREOF: Thursday’s MDJ carried an article by Thomas Hartwell noting the Cobb School District expected to collect about $800 million should voters approve a new sales tax referendum this November.

Hartwell reported that number after receiving an email from the school district’s mouthpiece, Nan Kiel.

So it came as a surprise when, during the school board’s Thursday meeting, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said that number was incorrect.

After saying $800 million at the board’s afternoon meeting, Ragsdale corrected himself:

“I’d actually said $800 million, it’s $900 million,” he said. “Thanks to the MDJ for printing that wrong, by the way, ‘cause that’s what stuck in my head. Just kidding, Thomas.”

We’ll make a deal with the superintendent. Don’t give us inaccurate info and we won't put it in the paper. 

BELTIN’ OUT BALLADS: Making the Facebook rounds is a video of country musician Wes Shipp serenading Acworth Police Department officers, in appreciation of a prior favor.

Apparently, Shipp and two of his friends found themselves out of gas and sleeping on the side of an Acworth road three years ago. Officers fed Shipp and his pals and filled up their gas tank.

Shipp paid tribute to the good samaritans by playing a song for them on the guitar.

“What an incredible story Wes has,” the department wrote on its Facebook. “We would like to thank Wes for stopping in, and also wish him well on his continued journey.”

According to George Moore, the man who filmed and posted the video, Acworth Police Chief Wayne Dennard “picks a little banjo too, so look out for a collaboration.”

KEMP CAMPAIGN IN COBB: This week, the Kemp for Governor campaign officially rolled out its network of grassroots leaders across all 159 counties in Georgia as well as initial staff. The campaign will hold an official kick-off event later this summer.

"Team Kemp has been hard at work putting together a team that will win in 2022," said campaign manager Bobby Saparow. “With grassroots leaders across every county in the state standing with Governor Kemp, it's clear his record is one Georgians support, and we look forward to hitting the campaign trail in the coming months to build on our momentum and continue fighting to put hardworking Georgians first."

Grassroots leaders for Cobb County listed in the news release include: DeAnna Harris, Jim Boyd, Marilyn Gilhuly, Rose Wing, Leah Nedblake, John Hightower, Louie Hunter, Keith Guthrie, Lynda Guthrie, Kim Sherk, Rex Harper, David Roach, David Connell, John Beville, Pat Gartland, Miriam Corbin, Kevin Nicholas, Helen Story, Pat Farrell, Jim Farrell, Dee Gay and John Wiles.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated guidance on masking has created more than a little confusion, not the least of which has come in the form of guidance for schools.

First, the CDC released updated recommendations that said those who had been fully vaccinated could ditch masks in most settings, indoors or outdoors. So, as they have been doing all along, the Cobb and Marietta school districts followed the recommendations of the health experts and announced that fully vaccinated folks would be allowed to choose whether they wanted to wear masks on school property.

But not so fast, the CDC said Saturday — the updated recommendations it had released days earlier don’t apply to schools. So the question for staff and decision makers within those districts is: “What now?”

Marietta Board of Education Chair Angela Orange said she was frustrated by the weekend change from the CDC when it came to masks in school settings, not because she’s against masking, but because the district wants to be able to keep its families and staff safe, as well as give them consistent guidance.

Angela Orange

“We value safety, we value consistency of communication, and our families depend on that,” Orange said.

Orange said she was thankful for the partnership Marietta Schools has with the CDC in its contact tracing efforts for virus cases in the schools. But, she said, it puts school districts in a tough situation when the CDC doesn’t specify that school guidance will be different than general guidance when the agency gives an update.

“I think the CDC’s guidance has confused a lot of people,” she said. “And I think that’s unfortunate.”

If families are concerned or confused about masking guidance, Orange added, they are welcome to continue wearing masks. Those who have been fully vaccinated and feel comfortable not wearing a mask are welcome to do that.

“I think we’re at a point now … where we’re at individual responsibility in terms of mask wearing,” she said. “You know your own risk profile, you know if you’ve had the vaccine or not, and so take caution for your own health.”

Cobb school board Chairman Randy Scamihorn had already voiced his concerns about public health mask guidance that he said changed like “shifting sand under our feet.” AT caught up with him to find out what he thought of the latest mask guidance blunder. You might be able to guess how he felt.

Randy Scamihorn

“They’ve been doing this for the last 10 to 12 months or longer, so ... unfortunately, most of this country’s fed up with it,” Scamihorn said of the CDC and other public health agencies’ changes on mask recommendations. “We’re being led by the incompetent — in my opinion, I better say in my opinion. But we’ll get through it, in spite of everything.”

Taxpayers, Scamihorn added, pay “bureaucrats” like those at the CDC far too much for the return they get.

And, ever the chatterbox, Cobb school board member Dr. Jaha Howard also voiced his thoughts on the district’s updated mask guidelines over the weekend, taking to his board member Facebook account.

Howard said he was “encouraged by the effectiveness of vaccines,” but “there are still many safety and logistical questions that linger.”

Unfortunately, he added, “your elected school board has not discussed this mask decision at all, nor the optional safety plans for 2021-2022.”

Howard encouraged keyboard warriors to share their concerns in comments on his post or in direct messages, promising to do what he could to “encourage our superintendent and board chairman to address them with urgency.”

Not the pause that refreshes: Banning Coca-Cola products from Georgia Republican Party functions, banning travel on Delta Air Lines for official party travel and rescinding Delta’s fuel tax credit were among the resolutions approved Saturday at the 11th District Republican Convention. The 11th Congressional District, held by U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, is Cobb’s lone Republican-held congressional district. The other two are held by Democrats Lucy McBath and David Scott.

Lisa Adkins, who was elected first vice chair of the 11th District, explained why they passed that resolution Saturday.

“As you know, both Coca-Coca and Delta came out against SB 202, which was our election integrity bill, saying that it made voting harder for anybody to vote, which is not true at all. It’s about making it easy to vote, hard to cheat, and that’s really what that bill is about,” Adkins said.

The resolution quotes Delta CEO Ed Bastion as saying “I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values.” And it quotes Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey saying “I want to be crystal clear. The Coca-Cola Company does not support this legislation, as it makes it harder for people to vote, not easier.”

Said Adkins: “I think it was important to vote for it because we’ve had such an increase of ‘woke’ companies that are following such a small part of what is being said. Half of it’s not even the truth and yet they’re coming out and speaking against a large majority of Georgians who said, no, we want our elections to be free and fair. If we lose, we lose, but we want it to be free and fair.”

Adkins said copies of the resolution will be sent to the Georgia General Assembly and to the CEOs of Delta and Coca-Cola.

“We want free and we want fair elections, and we don’t want to support companies who are calling the bill to help support those ‘Jim Crow 2.0,’” she said.

SPEAKING OF LOUDERMILK, there is a self-styled progressive Democrat who’s got the chutzpah to think he can win in a district which went over 60% Republican in this past cycle.

Barry Loudermilk

Meet Antonio Daza, a Venezuelan immigrant, one-time professional ballroom dancer, and owner of Buckhead-based dance studio Daza Dance. The candidate’s website says he left South America in the 2000s, fleeing the Hugo Chavez regime in Venezuela, and landed in the metro area. And as a member of the LGBTQ community, he’s called out Loudermilk’s vote against the Equality Act as a prime motivation for his run.

Antonio Daza

Perusing Daza’s website, his pitch is sure to provoke cheers on the left and howls on the right. He’s taken up the familiar progressive positions—Medicare for all, the Green New Deal, marijuana legalization, a $15 minimum wage—and gone further than many with a call to abolish ICE and “divest from policing, while reallocating funds to social programs like healthcare, housing, education, and supportive services,” per his announcement video.

That platform could make him Georgia’s most left-wing representative. Not even his potential colleague Nikema Williams, she of Atlanta’s 5th, has taken those stances on policing and immigration.

And sending a shiver down Cumberland’s spine, he’s also calling for higher taxes on corporations. Don’t expect him to get a keynote slot at any Cobb Chamber functions.

There’s no question Daza has staked out the left flank in the race. Whether he can win is a decidedly different matter. While Loudermilk’s margins of victory have shrunk over time as Cobb and Buckhead have trended purple, then blue, he’s yet to win an election by less than 20 points.

There’s a chance that will change after congressional redistricting—but if anything, the powers that be may be more likely to write off the southern portions as a loss, and give Loudermilk more of Marjorie Taylor Greene’s district as an insurance policy on the seat.

Around Town presumes Loudermilk won’t be sweating over this challenger, regardless of his ability to tango across the ballroom floor.

Sea to the Springs: Douglasville’s Rachel English, one of the many vendors at this past weekend’s seafood festival in Powder Springs, has an interesting job. As a festival vendor working primarily in Georgia, Alabama, Florida and sometimes Tennessee, she keeps notes of her experience at each festival, so she knows what to expect and stock next time she comes around.

For example: She’ll carry different sizes for different locales — Powder Spring-ers are trimmer than Alabamans, per her sales — and notes which colors and designs sell well at different festivals.

In Powder Springs: a magenta tie-dye shirt that reads, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” and a cyan tie-dye shirt with a pineapple graphic that says “Smile” were among the most popular items.

In Alabama, people love shirts with astronaut graphics. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center is located there, English explained.

Of course, coronavirus put an end to her sales opportunities for some time last year. As things began to ease up, though, she found some places were more worth her time than others.

“They’ve been a lot more shut down than Georgia and Alabama has,” she said of Tennessee. “And Florida’s been all the way open. It’s just like nothing ever happened there. So if you ever want, like, a sense of normalcy, just go to Florida. And you’re like, ‘what pandemic?’”

Chris Ragsdale

Cobb Schools Superintendent Chris Ragsdale was the star of the show at this week’s Kennesaw Business Association luncheon. In classic Ragsdale fashion, the superintendent made his way on to the stage at the Governors Gun Club as ACDC’s “Back in Black” blared through overhead speakers.

He touted the strength of Cobb teachers throughout the pandemic and reflected on the challenges the virus created for schools when it prompted the closure of buildings on a Friday the 13th in March 2020. He said rocks had been slung over the district’s decisions throughout the pandemic. The school district’s decisions came on the heels of advice from health experts, he noted.

Ragsdale also said virtual school options were likely here to stay, noting that his district will offer “a virtual option” next school year.

Government officials are allowed to educate but not advocate for the passage of sales tax referenda. Ragsdale walked confidently up to that line, tiptoed on top of it, but didn’t quite cross over, saying he believed most people in the room would support the 1% sales tax for education, if of course they, not he, desired. The referendum, which he called “vitally important” for facility upgrades and major projects, comes in November.

He only teased what he called expected projects, new projects and huge projects, without giving details, citing school board members’ aptitude to wring his neck should he present information publicly that he hadn’t yet brought to the board.

On that note, AT can’t help but notice that November is only six months out and both Cobb and Marietta voters have no idea what projects they’ll be asked to approve hundreds of millions of dollars for — though Ragsdale did promise a presentation at the May 20 school board meeting.

Then, “as dangerous as it sounds,” the superintendent turned the mic over to the audience to field their questions.

The audience members threw mostly softballs, asking about the future of opportunities for new teachers just graduating from college, what the district’s employee retention rate was and geographic placement of SPLOST projects.

At several periods in his presentation, Ragsdale came close to addressing the elephant in the room — the impending special review of the school district by its accrediting body, Cognia.

Without pointing fingers at any one (or three) person (or board member) or issue, Ragsdale said politics had no place in the operation of a school district or education of children, prompting applause from the crowd.

Ragsdale got even closer to the Cognia review topic later, saying there was “a lot of noise, a lot of distraction going on right now, but we’ll get through that.”

“We’re not a nationally renowned district for no reason,” he said.

But a direct exploration of the topic was conspicuously missing — so MDJ senior reporter Thomas Hartwell asked the superintendent about it after his talk.

Ragsdale said he had no update on the status of the upcoming accreditation review. And in response to the school board’s three Democrats saying at a recent meeting of the Cobb Democratic Party that the district’s accreditation is not threatened, Ragsdale said “that’s their opinion.”

“Anything less than full accreditation is a ding on accreditation. It’s not positive,” Ragsdale said, adding that the optics of a review even occurring is bad for the district.

Asked what options the three board members had other than going to Cognia and asking for a review after attempts to meet with him and Republican members of the board, Ragsdale said, “My door is always open.”

Jim Glover’s dog, Victor

Careful where you step: Victor the dog is often out and about in downtown Marietta with his owner, Jim Glover.

“He’s a regular on the Square. Everybody up there knows him. They don’t know me, they know him,” Glover said of his rescue dog, an 11-year-old Wolfhound-terrier blend.

Glover, who is manager and vice president of the Cobb office of Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty, said he noticed something wrong after Victor returned to the house from being let outside Wednesday. Victor was hobbling and licking his paw as if he had a splinter. Glover trimmed the dog’s toenail, thinking that was the source of irritation.

“He just started swelling up overnight and the next morning he just chewed himself raw and it was bleeding so I took him to the vet. His foot swelled up just like a club foot almost. It looked grotesque,” Glover said.

The vet kept Victor overnight for observation.

“He’s an older dog and he’s had cardiac problems so they wanted to watch him. They treated the wound and had him on IVs.”

The vet told Glover that it was a venomous bite, either from a snake or a brown recluse spider.

“I’ve seen copperheads out in my yard, so I just assume it was a copperhead. I’m too far away from water for it to be a water moccasin,” Glover said.

The vet also told him snakes don’t always release all of their venom when biting dogs.

“They would on a human because they really view humans as a threat but they don’t necessarily view dogs as that much of a threat. It was total news to me.”

Victor was back home Friday, and, after drinking lots of water while wearing the cone of shame, sleeping peacefully.

“I think he’s rounded the corner — the fact that he made it through the night last night,” Glover said, advising dog owners to be aware when walking outside and observe where your dogs go.

“I walk the trails of Kennesaw Mountain a lot and we see a lot of snakes on those trails. And I think it’s just very important that people be very aware, and I might even just take Victor out on a leash just so he doesn’t wander off where we can’t see. Watch where you walk,” he advised.

SOCCER AND THE GEM CITY: Did you know Marietta has a semi-pro women’s soccer team? Well, you do now. They’re called the Atlanta Panthers, and they were invited to Marietta’s City Council meeting Wednesday night by Councilwoman Cheryl Richardson.

The Panthers are a pro-am (professional-amateur) team. Pro-am teams serve as feeder teams to the National Women’s Soccer League, the top level of women’s soccer in the U.S.

Per the Panthers’ website, some pro-am players are college athletes staying in shape over the summer, while others are ex-pro players or just amateurs who love the game.

A few of the Panthers played at Marietta High School, City Manager Bill Bruton said.

“We’re very glad to be a part of the city of Marietta, because we’ve been trying to find a place to play … I’m excited to allow these great women to have this opportunity to play, because of the fact that there’s not a team — a semi-pro team or a pro team — for the women (in Atlanta),” said Bernadette “Bernie” Beale, the owner and general manager of the team.

There’s been lots of interest already, head coach Ron Apollon said. He said 48 players have signed up — the team has been training, and he’s still figuring out who will be in the starting lineup.

The Panthers play at Life University. Their first match is June 5 at 7 p.m. against Pensacola FC.

THE VACCINE QUESTION: The great state of Maine announced recently it would bribe vaccine-hesitant residents with credits to L.L. Bean, the state’s pride and joy, as well as hunting and fishing licenses.

Teri Anulewicz

State Rep. Teri Anulewicz, D-Smyrna, thinks it’s time for Georgia to do something similar.

“If you want to motivate someone to do something, you’ve got to know their currency,” she wrote on Twitter Wednesday. “We’ve tried @krispykreme in GA & that worked well but it may be time for the big guns cc: @WaffleHouse @ChickfilA @GeorgiaWild let’s get some licenses!”

APPOINTMENTS: Among the winners of Senate Bill 202 (alternatively, the “Jim Crow 2.0,” or, “easy to vote, hard to cheat” law) was the Georgia State Elections Board, the five-member body responsible for overseeing elections across the state. The bill invested in the board new powers to review local elections boards, and if deemed necessary, suspend them for up to nine months.

That board now has a new member, who will be a familiar face to Cobb voters—Sara Tindall Ghazal, the 2020 Democratic opponent to state Rep. Matt Dollar, R-east Cobb.

Sara Tindall Ghazal

Ghazal, appointed by the state Democratic Party, was the party’s first voter protection director from 2018 to 2019, before leaving the position to take on Dollar (a less successful venture; she earned only 45% of the vote).

She is also the first addition since the SB 202 shakeup to the statewide board, which still awaits a chair. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was removed by law from his voting chairman’s post. The state legislature is tasked with choosing a new chair, with the option for Gov. Brian Kemp to appoint one when lawmakers aren’t in session. That, so far, has yet to happen.

Keli Gambrill

Vinings Bank exec Clark Hungerford is back for another term on the Development Authority of Cobb County. And as regular Around Town readers may guess, Commissioner Keli Gambrill isn’t pleased.

Clark Hungerford

Prior to the 4-1 vote to give Hungerford another term, Gambrill called out Chairwoman Lisa Cupid for not putting her nominee, RE/MAX’s Jim Barner, up for a vote.

“Rather than follow the past paradigm for how the board made appointments to the development authority — and has followed for the last 40 years — the chair has chosen to create her own appointment rules without seeking the board’s approval on the new selection process,” Gambrill said.

Gambrill’s argument is a procedural one. She says she pursued the proper channels on behalf of Barner by submitting his name to the clerk’s office, expecting it to be placed on the agenda. And she’s correct that a resolution approved by commissioners last month did not explicitly lay out the process for appointing the two board-wide seats on the seven-member body. Those seats, it read, “shall be agreed upon by a consensus of the Board.”

But whose consensus?

The issue flared at Monday’s work session, when Gambrill accused Cupid of advancing Hungerford “behind closed doors.”

“Commissioner, you’ve been on this board for two years. This is not your first BOC appointment,” Cupid shot back. “The process has been that people have given their nominations, and people have responded via email if they want to have somebody else to be considered. This is not anything new.”

Lisa Cupid

The chairwoman maintains that any commissioner wanting to advance a nominee should speak with their fellow commissioners and build that elusive “consensus” around their nominee, at which point Cupid would put the candidate up for a vote. Gambrill, Cupid said, failed to do that.

Cupid’s had Gambrill as a burr in her saddle since her term began — most votes not approved unanimously this year have had 4-1 vote, with Gambrill dissenting. The typically tactful Cupid spoke with more than a hint of irritation before the vote on Hungerford’s appointment, accusing her colleague of being more interested in making a show of her grievances than trying to work them out.

“It is very frustrating when we have more communication on the dais about disagreement, but there’s no communication that occurs before the meeting to just pick up the phone, send an email,” Cupid said.

She continued, “I’m not opposed to all commissioners being able to have the opportunity to communicate their concerns. But it is getting tiring to continue to come to this dais and to have more dialogue with a commissioner who spends her energy up here, instead of just picking up the phone and reaching out to colleagues as we should be doing … I have got to believe that there are more constructive ways for us to be able to address our differences.”

Gambrill said after the meeting she doesn’t believe the issue is ideological. Her previous nominee, KSU economist J.C. Bradbury, has been a vocal crusader against the county’s orthodoxy on handing out tax breaks to any corporation who asks. But she says that’s not the issue this time. It’s not so much about who she’s nominating, but “about who I’m removing”—the multi-decade incumbent Hungerford.

The next board-wide appointment comes up next March, when the term of Karen Hallacy (re-appointed by Bob Ott in 2018) ends. Around Town doesn’t expect much more “consensus” to be floating around by then. But perhaps we’ll at least have a working definition.

TRAFFIC TROUBLES: The polarizing topic of one-way traffic on Lawrence Street and Washington Avenue was again debated during the Marietta City Council's work session on Monday. 

Reggie Copeland

Council members ultimately agreed to hold a public hearing on the matter before its next Public Works Committee meeting on May 25. But before that was decided, Councilman Reggie Copeland went after city attorney Doug Haynie for a comment he made at the last committee meeting, on April 27.

At issue is Copeland's push to change sections of the two streets to one-way. The council agreed to Copeland's proposal last year, but now faces a backlash from people who say it will inconvenience them and lead to increased, not decreased, traffic speeds.

Copeland addressed the topic at April 27th's committee meeting, but left before the entire council took up the subject. While discussing it, Councilwoman Michelle Cooper Kelly wondered aloud how the council could get public input on the project. Attorney Haynie said that “they’ve actually had that,” referring to a community input meeting last summer. “But I think it might be said that that went under the radar,” he added. Councilman Grif Chalfant agreed. The community input meeting, though advertised to residents and streamed on Facebook, only drew about a dozen attendees. Business owners in the affected area have claimed they weren’t properly notified about the project. City staff sent out letters and followed the usual process, but for whatever reason, people didn’t hear about it.

Copeland was apparently less than pleased upon reading Haynie’s quote in the MDJ. On Tuesday, he asked Haynie to share “what you mean by it going ‘under the radar,’ and then I’ll respond to why I don't think it's been under the radar.”

“I did not say that,” Haynie responded.

“So the paper just misquoted you, I guess?” Copeland asked.

“I did not say that,” Haynie repeated.

Copeland continued to pontificate for a few minutes before thanking Haynie “for clearing that up, and I know how you feel when you’re misquoted by the MDJ. I've been misquoted many times by them.”

Doug Haynie

Around Town reminds Copeland and Haynie that their council meetings are recorded and archived on the city's website. Should either like to hear the quote in question, simply visit the city's website and fast forward to the meeting's 1:55:55 mark.

Later in Tuesday's discussion, Copeland again turned his ire on Haynie.

“Here’s the freaking bottom line,” Copeland said, pounding his fist on the table.

The bottom line, Copeland declared, was that the public should have been given an official public hearing. He then said Haynie had told council members last year that council was not legally required to hold a public hearing and could instead just hold a community input meeting.

“Sir, you are our attorney, you get paid big bucks, and we expect you to give us the appropriate information,” Copeland said.

Copeland has previously opposed attempts to reconsider the one-way decision and argued that despite the opposition of business owners, residents support the change. He struck a more conciliatory tone Monday night, saying he’s willing to work with residents and business owners.

“I think we can come up with something that will be workable for both sides,” he said. 

Council's May 25 committee meetings will start early, at 4:30 p.m. At 6 p.m., they will pause committee business to hold a special meeting on one-way streets. Following that, the Public Works Committee will meet, presumably to take some sort of concrete action.

ON THE RIGHT: At Saturday’s Cobb GOP breakfast, newly elected party Chairwoman Salleigh Grubbs invoked the Gettysburg Address, the immortal 1863 speech President Abraham Lincoln delivered on the site of one of the deadliest battles of the Civil War.

Salleigh Grubbs

“While reading the address, I would like for you to think of the battle for freedom that Americans have before them today,” Grubbs said. “I want us to come together and fight as those who came before us fought, because if we don’t, the America we know will not be recognizable. What we are facing now from the liberal left isn’t so different than why our forefathers united to fight for liberty. Our party must come together, we must fight for our country, our freedoms and our sovereignty, so that those who lost their lives did not die in vain.”

Grubbs began reading the address, but paused as she approached its end.

“Please listen carefully to this portion and commit yourself to doing what it is going to take for us to win against the liberal agenda and their approach to turn our country towards communism,” she said. “I think we can all see that, with critical race theory as the message of the day in schools, and it’s no doubt that it’s active, and it’s here, and we’ve got to stop it.”

The passage in question: “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

ON MASKS: After repeating multiple times that his opinion is his own and separate from the Cobb School District mask mandate lawsuit making its way through the courts, Cobb school board Chairman Randy Scamihorn told the Journal he’s ready to see some data from the Georgia Department of Public Health, as well as health departments at all levels, about exactly how well masks really protect against virus transmission.

Randy Scamihorn

“I think this has certainly not helped their reputation — the pandemic and how it’s been handled over the past 18 months … with the general public,” Scamihorn said of health departments. “I question the validity of wearing the mask, not because I know anything special that others don’t. It’s because the information keeps shifting like sand under our feet on the beach.”

Scamihorn cited what he called constant shifts in information about the virus, and said he remembers early on that health experts were none too worried about masking up.

What Scamihorn would like to see, he said, is a response from health departments to studies that claim masks are doing no good. He’d like to see the health departments stop “hedging their bets” and give more definitive data.

“School boards across this nation and in Georgia have suffered because we try to follow DPH’s guidance, but most of the time it’s not definitive,” he said. “School boards aren’t health experts.”

CELL TOWER TANGO: It started like a bad joke—a San Antonio lawyer and a New Jersey telecom executive walk into a Cobb County zoning hearing.

The bespectacled duo showed at 9 a.m. for the meeting’s kickoff, oblivious to the series of lengthy zoning cases to be heard before their application. By 3:30, when the Planning Commission called their case, Bebb Francis (he of San Antonio) found his suit wrinkled, his pocket square struggling mightily to keep its shape.

But Francis and his client Thomas Waniewski (of Jersey) were unbothered, even chuckling at some of the day’s more pedestrian cases as the afternoon crawled along. The two had come on serious business: to pitch a rezoning so that Waniewski’s company, Diamond Communications, might erect an AT&T cell tower in west Cobb (critically, one camouflaged to look like a tree—a so-called “mono-pine”).

It was a smooth, professional presentation. Francis projected confidence, deigning to recognize the county for their hospitality.

“On a personal note,” Francis began, “I want to thank John (Pederson) and Jeannie (Payton) and your team. They’ve just been tremendous to work with, so responsive. And we respectfully request your recommendation for approval.”

What the attorney and his client didn’t know was that Planning Commissioner Fred Beloin, representative of the area, seems to have inhabited a past life as a Spanish Inquisitor. The two sauntered to their seats, likely presuming it open and shut. (“They thought it was a slam dunk,” Beloin would later say.)

There followed a nearly 90-minute discourse on the merits of the application, the merits of cell towers, the merits of AT&T (of whom Beloin is a loyal customer), and even the merits of Wikipedia. After a slew of questions that clearly wore on the weary travelers, Beloin called two neighbors opposing the project to the stand.

Fred Beloin

“You saw a picture of it, a 155-foot mono-pine. What’s your problem with looking at one of those?” Beloin asked.

“Well, we saw the pictures…” began Ricky Stevens.

“What’s your opinion of it?”

“We don’t like it,” said Stevens. “It looks like a fake tree. We saw them all over Alpharetta.”

“Looks like you need to put a deer stand in it,” said Billy Brawner, who added he doesn’t own a cell phone.

The real rub, however, was that Diamond had failed to adequately lay out what might happen were the tower to come tumbling down on a gusty day (for this reason and others, Beloin said, he was generally opposed to cell towers in residential neighborhoods). Beloin hammered on this point, and was backed up by Chairman Galt Porter.

“I have to say, this is the first applicant in all the years I’ve been doing this, and we used to do a lot of towers … (who couldn’t) tell me where the break points are on their pole … and I kind of think you’re not ready to be here,” Porter said.

Beloin then read a series of articles (and one Wikipedia entry) of unknown credibility into the record, highlighting incidents of cell towers tumbling down like so many Babels. He launched into a laundry list of conclusions from his inquest (“Conclusion five: barbed wire is not attractive”), called the application “contradictory and inconsistent,” and moved to deny the application outright. Waniewski, from his seat, shook his head.

“I disagree that the introduction of literature without an opportunity for the opposition to respond to that—I disagree that that’s substantial evidence,” said former county attorney and Planning Commissioner Deborah Dance, suggesting Beloin perhaps needed better citations.

The commissioner moved ahead. Motion to deny? Defeated 4-1. The commission ultimately decided to hold the proposal for a month.

Kevin Moore, a local real estate attorney and fixture of zoning hearings, stood by checking his phone. Moore would ultimately be released from his duties some time around 6:30 that evening. But Around Town would remind him of this: at least, counselor, you didn’t have to take that long, lonesome flight back to the streets of San Antonio.