Tonight, I attended a Candidate Forum at the East Cobb Library, sponsored by the East Cobb Civic Association. Participating were the four candidates for Chairman of the Cobb County Commission, incumbent Tim Lee, former chairman Bill Byrne, former candidate Larry Savage and newcomer Mike Boyce. Also participating was Bob Ott, County Commissioner for District 2, who is running, unopposed, for re-election to that position.
Included in the SRO audience was a large contingent of candidates running for various offices in the upcoming election.
Each candidate was given three minutes in which to tell the audience why he was the best qualified for the position of Chairman. As might be expected, the speeches were mostly self serving bios extolling their various life experiences which they could bring to play in the execution of the job, if elected.
Questions, in writing, were solicited from the audience and fed through a 2 person team, tasked with the job of assembling similar questions and consolidating them into a single question, as well as weeding out objectionable, personal and irrelevant questions.
The questions were then read by a mediator, who addressed the questions to a single candidate, with each candidate getting a turn at being first addressed. The person addressed initially had two minutes to respond and the other 3 had one minute each to respond to the same question.
Most of the questions dealt with SPLOST and TSPLOST, with the budget getting its fair share of the spotlight. Basically, three of the candidates, Byrne, Savage and Boyce oppose the TSPLOST, as having no benefit for Cobb County, and all other SPLOSTs on the basis that they do not fit the description of what the SPLOST was intended to be. Chairman Lee attempted to make the case for the TSPLOST, but I don’t think he accomplished that, at least, not to this audience.
Perhaps the most interesting and surprising question was “As Chairman, what steps would you take to protect Cobb County from acts of terrorism?” The question left all four candidates with the proverbial “deer in the headlights” look. Lee, to whom the question was initially directed answered that the county had a responsibility to protect all its citizens, not just those who engage in controversial activities, which could cause them to be the subjects of attacks. Savage and Byrne pretty much echoed Lee, while trying to make it sound otherwise. Boyce gave the only original answer and that was basically that people had better know that Cobb County is a law-abiding county and to those who choose to transgress the law, he said “We will hunt you down and bring you trial and you will be convicted and you will go to jail and we hope you enjoy your stay.” That was as close as any candidate came to getting an ovation.
Much of the night was spent with three of the candidates explaining why Lee and his policies are wrong for Cobb County and Lee defending his two year record.
Probably, the single most novel idea came from former Chairman Bill Byrne. He restated what he has said in numerous ads. He would move to privatize some of the county functions, thereby creating private sector jobs and reducing government spending. Whether this is feasible, and whether it would effect a savings over the long haul are both question, the answers to which would require some detailed analysis. However, it is an idea which appears worthy of consideration.
In evaluating what I heard, I would sum it up this way. As voters, we have one of two choices. we can choose to continue the policies of the last two years, or we can choose to move in a different direction. If we choose the latter, then we have to decide who better to lead us down the new road, Byrne, Savage or Boyce.
Who won? I really don’t think there was, or that there really has to be, a winner. In reality, we are all winners when we can come together and discuss our ideas openly in a civilized and respectful manner.