I had planned to sit down face-to-face with Bob Ott to talk about his announcement that he is stepping down as District 2 Commissioner at the end of the year. Alas, he was under the weather and I was on deadline. So, we have resorted to a question-and-answer format via the internet, which is never under the weather and doesn’t care about deadlines, even though I do.Here is what I asked and Ott’s responses:
What made you decide not to seek another term on the commission?
“It was a hard decision, but Judy and I talked about it and we decided it was time, especially in light of the fact I had originally said I would run for two terms. I only ran for the third to see the stadium through.”
How long have you been thinking about this?
“Probably for the last six months or so.”
What has been the reaction?
“Commission members were surprised. I think they didn’t think I could just walk away from it all. They don’t know me as well as they thought. Staff has generally been happy and sad. Happy that I made a decision that was right for me, but sad that I am leaving.
“Constituents have been mostly sending congratulation notes with many also saying they were surprised and that they will miss me being on the BOC. That has been nice to hear.”
How has the relationship among your fellow commissioners changed during your time on the board? Or has it?
“I think the board has become somewhat fractured. I see a lot of ‘what’s in it for me’ instead of the overall county. There is definitely more spending than in the past. District 2 pays almost 36% of all the property taxes in the county, with the Cumberland CID being only 3% of that. So, the folks in the district keep asking, ‘What are we getting for our tax dollars?’”
What has been a highlight of your tenure as a commissioner?
“There are a couple. First, I would say is being able to get the word out to more people around the district through town halls, the newsletter and even the TV show. When I started, no one sent weekly newsletters and town halls were not a regular thing. Second would be the creation of citizen-generated master plans that have led to the restoring many parts of the district. Many parts of the district now have shopping centers that are full whereas they were empty or close to it when I got elected. Third, of course, would be the Braves stadium and The Battery. It is clearly a destination and very successful. I always enjoy going to an event there and seeing the folks of all ages enjoying the amenities that are there.”
What has disappointed you?
“The divisions on the board. Also, I have become disappointed in the nastiness of emails and phone calls from some members of the public. It seems the political discord from Washington has moved to the local level.”
What has surprised you?
“Two things. First, the interest of the community when I started town halls. I regularly have 150-plus at a normal town hall and over 900 at the one on Sterigenics. Second, the pleasant and complimentary notes I’ve received since I announced my retirement. After seeing the political discord mentioned above, I wasn’t ready for the outpouring of nice notes and emails.”
How were you able to manage your time between flying for Delta (Ott is international A-330 pilot) and serving as a commissioner?
“I have a very understanding wife and family. Also, I didn’t always fly as much as I could have, which in recent years started to cost me money. I think, too, it is all about priorities. I always tried to put family first. They put up with a lot of phone calls and emails.”
What would you suggest for those running to replace you?
“Make sure you know what the job entails to do a good job. The district includes around 190,000 people and each has a personal interest in some aspect of what goes on. I could not have done this without the help of amazing assistants — Renee Nichols, then Thea Powell and now Kim Swanson. It has to be a team effort. Additionally, use the volunteers that want to help.”
What advice would you have for anyone thinking about public service?
“Remember that it is public SERVICE. It is not a job to propel to the next level. It certainly isn’t about the money. Make sure you are entering it for the right reasons, because if you are not, it will be an extremely unpleasant experience.”
What do you see as some of the issues facing the county going forward?
“The big three are: the budget, the pension and public safety. All three are on collision courses. The county can’t keep adding expenses to the budget and not be surprised when there isn’t enough money to go around. For example, the county doesn’t have enough personnel to manage the current parks. Why then, should new ones be created, which will further burden staff and the budget? That’s one example of what contributes to the shortages in the other two.”
Any plans to get back into politics in the future?
What are your own personal plans? Do you plan to stay active in the community?
“Absolutely. I have spent close to 20 years involved in helping shape our community. I am not walking away from that. It is time for someone else to step up to the chair. I plan on using what I know to help in other ways.”