A total of 2,740 people or 54 percent voted for the bond while 2,307 or 46 percent voted against, according to unofficial results posted on the county’s website.
Tumlin, who was also returned to a second term in office, acknowledged it was a risk to place a proposed tax increase on the same ballot where he was up for re-election.
“On how to run a campaign, doing a bond referendum at the same time is probably not in the same chapter,” Tumlin said.
Yet, the mayor said he believes in the bond’s power to transform his city strongly enough to take that risk.
“In a very strong way it was so important to me I didn’t mind risking not winning,” Tumlin said. “I actually put that above my own office, and I think that made everything fall into place.”
The mayor said the bond will revitalize a key area of Marietta: Franklin Road.
“I think step one is being adjacent to (Interstate) 75 and (Highway) 41 is such a natural for commercial growth, for jobs, to bring good business here, to help attract young people, the halo effect will be great for both the city of Marietta and Cobb County,” he said.
A mark of leadership County Chairman Tim Lee, who was among those who turned out to support Tumlin at his Marietta Museum of History re-election party, applauded Tumlin for making the case for the bond.
“And I think in the end when people got educated as to how it will help not only redevelopment and the economy in Marietta, but also will help improve the conditions of the Marietta school system, I think when everyone looked at all the positives associated with it and the fact that Steve was out being a leader and pushing it for all the right reasons that they had a confidence that this was something that would really move the city forward.”
The bond will allow the city to buy aging apartment complexes along Franklin Road and raze them, preparing the way for redevelopment. Of the $68 million, $4 million is earmarked for Whitlock Avenue streetscape improvements.
Depending on how much of the $68 million is borrowed, the bond could increase property taxes by 2 mills for a term of up to 20 years. That means the owner of a $200,000 home would see a tax increase of $160 per year and the owner of a $400,000 home would see a $320 annual increase, according to the city.
Lee also spoke of Tumlin’s placement of the bond referendum on the same ballot as his race for reelection.
“I think it was a mark of his leadership,” Lee said. “He felt that was important to do, important to act on right away; I think his own election was secondary to that. He felt that that’s what needed to be done for the right reasons, the right time, so he brought that forward. It speaks volumes about the character of the man.”
Spearheading the bond campaign were local political strategists Heath Garrett and Mitch Hunter, whose Vote Yes! Marietta campaign raised about $14,000.
“We see communities that are willing to admit they have problems and do something about those problems, and then we see communities that ignore problems and eventually suffer the loss of identity and the loss of economic activity and a loss of the middle class, and we saw that happening in Marietta,” Garrett said. “When bad government policies create high concentrations of slum-like housing, it takes the government to step in to help fix the problem, which is why we supported a local municipal bond to help undo 30 years of bad government decisions.”
They created the Vote Yes! Marietta campaign after Tumlin and the council put the bond on the ballot earlier this year.
Crime on Franklin
Garrett attributed passage of the bond to the crime problem on Franklin Road.
“The fact that seems to motivate voters the most was an increasing recognition of the crime and gang activity centered in and around the Franklin Road corridor,” Garrett said. “For years, citizens of Marietta could ignore Franklin Road until Franklin Road started negatively affecting the school system, their property values, and running businesses out of the city of Marietta.”
Former state senator and government affairs consultant Chuck Clay of Marietta spoke of how Marietta voters have supported other projects in the past, like a $25 million bond to improve city parks as well as building a theater for Marietta High School.
“Anybody that says you can pass a tax increase right now, they’d probably say you’re crazy, but Marietta folks traditionally bucked the curve and invested in the city,” Clay said. “There’s a core of Marietta voters that have consistently and historically been willing to invest in the community. They’re committed to the school system, they’re committed to the city, they’ve either grown up here or they’ve moved here because of the ambiance, the services, just being part of the city of Marietta, and they invest in it.”
Many Mariettans still remember Ernest Barrett, the county chairman from the 1960s to the 1980s.
“There’s still a lot of people in Marietta who do remember that a guy that has a vision about investing in infrastructure created the Cobb County of today,” Clay said of Barrett.
Marietta Councilman Johnny Sinclair said the ward in which Franklin Road is located saw the highest percentage of votes in favor of the bond.
“What I attribute it to is there are two big owner-occupied developments out there, town house developments,” Sinclair said. “I think what you’ll find is that they overwhelmingly supported the bond because it’s directly linked to their property values.”
Lance Lamberton of the Cobb Taxpayers Association, who campaigned against the bond, predicted it would pass earlier in the day.
“It’s the amount of money and all of the getting-out-the-vote tools that the other side has that we don’t,” Lamberton said. “Also, there is the power of City Hall. There is the aura, the image of ‘Well, if your elected officials and our leaders are in favor of it, then it must be good.’”
Marty Heller, a CPA who lives on Church Street in Marietta, was particularly active in opposing the bond, spending hundreds on “vote no” signs as well as about $2,400 on media ads opposing it. Heller said he and Tumlin are friends, and he voted for Tumlin to be re-elected. Tumlin is just wrong on the bond issue, Heller said, just as he was wrong to support pay-day loans when he was in the Georgia House.
Heller said he decided to become involved in opposing the bond out of a compassion for the residents of Franklin Road, a place he visited one evening.
“Most of those people on Franklin Road are immigrants,” Heller said. “They come from Mexico and South America. The little children playing over there impressed us. They’re young kids, smiling, playing, and the fact that the city was going to tear those down, really shows a lack of compassion on the part of the city.”
Heller said he doesn’t like the idea of the city having another $68 million in bond debt on its books, either. But his opposition to the proposal has more to do with a concern for the Franklin Road residents.
“The people who voted for it want to eliminate the population on Franklin Road and raze the apartment complexes and replace it with commercial development,” Heller said. “They want to eliminate the poor people on Franklin Road, they want to get the Hispanics out of the school system so that their test scores will go up, and it will make it easier for the school system, that’s their purpose. It’s class warfare. It’s blatant discrimination against the school children who live over there.”
Garrett disputes accusations of class warfare.
“First of all, Marietta and Cobb County has a unique blend of professional ‘aginners (against),’” Garrett said. “Unfortunately, they’re willing to say anything to try to defeat whatever local government is trying to do.”
Garrett said it would be “immoral and unconscionable” for anyone who cares about the downtrodden to continue to ignore and do nothing about Franklin Road.
“What we are proposing and what would happen on Franklin Road with the success of the bond vote is actually sound public policy and the most moral thing we can do for those trapped in high density crime-ridden slum like apartment complexes,” he said.