Lee spoke before an applauding, friendly crowd of about two dozen at Johnnie MacCracken’s Celtic Pub off the Marietta Square during the Young Republicans’ monthly meeting on Tuesday night.
Katelyn Ledford of Marietta, who is in her second one-year term as chair of the Young Republicans, said she contacted all Republican candidates in the runoff to speak at her meeting, including Byrne, although Byrne told the Journal in a phone call Tuesday evening that he knew nothing about the event.
“I sent him an email. It might have been this morning, and we had put it on Facebook,” Ledford said.
The evening also saw Rebecca Keaton, a candidate for Cobb Superior Court clerk, speak to the group. Like Byrne, Keaton’s runoff opponent, John Skelton, was also missing.
One questioner from the audience, which had the crowd roaring with laughter, asked Lee if he ever plans on running for commissioner in a different county “and bashing Cobb for being a prosperous county,” a reference to an attack mailer Lee’s campaign sent out about Byrne living in Polk County.
Lee said he did not intend to move.
“In fact, I get jittery when I drive out of Cobb County just to have dinner,” Lee said.
Another questioner asked Lee about the passion he has for his position.
“It’s tough to be a citizen servant. Where does that passion come from,” the questioner asked.
Lee said the decisions he made as chairman are why three people chose to run against him.
“If I had taken the easy way out and thrown Cobb County’s well being, from my perspective, into an area of potential risk for its sovereignty financially, I’d be like all the other candidates that didn’t have an opponent,” Lee said. “What I did was not for my reelection. What I did was for the best interest of Cobb County and its citizens, and if they see through the rhetoric hopefully they’ll return me back for another four years with that same passion to do what is best in response to the citizens’ needs and wants and desires to lead us into an area that I think we need to go.”
Lee went on to say that, “Passion comes from the heart. It comes from the gut. And with me it comes from fulfilling what I believe is God’s will for my life.”
The Journal asked Lee to name his proudest achievement as chairman as well as what decision he most regrets making.
Lee spoke of visiting the rating agencies in New York last year, where they told him if he didn’t make a course correction he was putting the county at financial risk of losing Cobb’s Triple-AAA rating. They also warned him about the excesses of the county’s pension plan.
“’We realize it’s a tough economic time,’” Lee said the rating agencies told him. “’We realize you’re in a conservative community. We realize that most people don’t like what you have to do, but if you don’t, don’t come back here next year expecting (to have the same rating).’ And I promised them I would make the decisions that needed to be done to ensure that we were taking care of Cobb County citizens’ financial books and move forward, and we did that – criticized — we did that, got me three opponents, but we did it, my most crowning, proud moment was being able to go back this past June to all three of those rating agencies and look them in the eye and say, ‘I promised you that I would do what I needed to do to make sure Cobb County was in a position to be financially stable and I did.’”
Lee declined to cite a specific example of a decision he made that he most regrets making as chairman.
“I’m a human being,” Lee said. “I’ve made mistakes, and I will continue to make mistakes as long as I’m here on Earth. I try my best to always do the right thing by the citizens of Cobb County, by the employees that work to provide services, and by my family and my country and my God. I fail occasionally, and I regret every time that I fail. But I learn and I try to analyze and pick myself up, and I try to move forward in a better, better way, and so I don’t have one single regret. I don’t have one problem or issue that I think I could have done differently, because anybody can Monday Morning quarterback. God knows you do it. I try my best to do the best that I can. If it’s not right 100 percent you learn so that you can do better next time. If it’s 50 percent we really look at it hard and make sure we go forward. I don’t have an instance. That’s not an unfair question, that’s a reasonable question, it’s just an irrelevant question.”
Tuesday morning Jim Galloway in his Political Insider column took note of how Lee had rejected an invitation from Jill Flamm, president of the East Cobb Civic Association, to participate in a chairman candidate forum her group was hosting, as well as declining to participate in a MDJ-sponsored debate with Byrne which would have been carried live by TV 23.
Galloway went on to report that the Atlanta Press Club was considering hosting such a debate as well to be aired by WPBA (Channel 30) over the weekend before the runoff vote on Aug. 21.
Asked about this prior to his talk with the Young Republicans, Lee said he would decline an invitation from the Atlanta Press Club as well.
“I’m in marketing,” Lee said. “Television is used for broad reach. We are in a specific target mode right now to get specific people back and TV is not the most effective, efficient way to reach those targeted people.”
Such things as direct mail pieces, telephone calls, and door to door conservations are what works, he said.
Lee has hired two consulting firms to advise him in his race, Joel McElhannon with Athens-based South Public Affairs Consulting, who helped him in his first campaign, and Jeremy Brand with Brand LLC.
Lee said he wasn’t worried about the message it might send that he was refusing to debate Byrne.
“I’ve had a lot of people say [claps reporter on the back] you’re doing the right thing by not doing the debate,” Lee said.