Around Town: At the Cobb Courthouse, the plots thicken
by Otis Brumby, Bill Kinney & Joe Kirby
Around Town Columnists
November 22, 2010 12:00 AM | 5689 views | 17 17 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The plots thicken in what is beginning to seem like a weekly string of eye-opening revelations coming out of the Cobb courthouse.

The county commission has run into choppy waters since Sam Olens resigned as chairman and parlayed his leadership and consensus-building skills into a successful race for state attorney general.

Olens kept the boat in the middle of the stream with an even hand on the tiller, but now seasoned courthouse observers are saying it looks like the commission is trying to reverse roles with the county school board that could write a how-to manual on self-inflicted wounds.

In other words, the engine is now knocking and the exhaust pipe is belching smoke from what heretofore was one of the finest-oiled local government machines in Georgia. The time frame for this turnaround? Olens resigned at the end of March and new chairman Tim Lee won the July 28 election - a matter of a few months.

Lee barely had time to test out the gavel before a slew of unpleasant surprises started surfacing.

As one courthouse observer quipped, "The county has been hit by one swinging gate after another: First, it was Chamber-gate, the plan by the Cobb Chamber of Commerce to take over the county economic development office. There was Streetlight-gate, the audit that revealed $3 million-plus was diverted from streetlight maintenance to other operations for six years. Then there was Mule-gate, the deal for two mules bought for a Hyde Farm "demonstration" that cost taxpayers more than $70,000 before the mules were sold at a loss. And Dunn-gate, that outrageous sweetheart $25,000 consulting deal for retiring county elections director Sharon Dunn before it was shot down by Thea Powell. And there was county manager David Hankerson's no-bid purchase of four dump trucks. And now, in another revelation, there's Bedminster-gate. The county has launched its own investigation after it was learned last week that, unbeknownst to the public, for years the county diverted water system revenue to subsidize the odorous Bedminster operation started under Byrne's chairmanship and later divested to a private company.

Tightening the screws on Hankerson, the commissioners told him last week to start complying with an obscure 1983 state law requiring the county clerk, Candace Ellison, to keep a daily calendar of his actions and copies of sole source requests or contracts. Until the flak started hitting the fan over Hankerson, nobody knew about the law but now he's under orders to conform as closely as possible to the requirements for keeping minutes of the county managers actions.

Despite the flak Hankerson and the county have been getting recently, generally he has been regarded as well qualified and competent since taking on the manager's job in 1993. Since then he has received a pay raise of 5 to 8 percent every three years when his contract was renewed, giving him total annual compensation of nearly $270,000 this year. Pay raises usually mean better than satisfactory work. Hankerson's friends and supporters say he's getting blamed for actions done at the behest of Olens, and his predecessor Byrne, and endorsed by the commission - such as the mule purchases - but some commissioners now are trying to throw him overboard. He's blamed for everything lately short of the shellacking President Obama took Nov. 2.

So people are asking what is behind all the stuff hitting the fan. The answer from a well-connected politico is: Thea Powell, chosen by the commission to fill Lee's seat after he became chairman. Powell has been anything but an interim seat warmer or potted plant even though she goes off the board the first of the year when duly elected JoAnn Birrell takes office.

"Thea Powell and (commissioner) Bob Ott are fueling the fire to embarrass or harass Hankerson out of office before his contract expires at the end of the year," the in-the-know source said. "His friends say he's done a good job but is being insulted by having to abide by a law that he and other county managers consider ridiculous and nobody follows. But now he's being hovered over and treated like a misbehaving child. They keep him twisting in the wind. It's no way to treat a professional with all the experience and the record that Hankerson has. After all, he got along with the ramrod, Bill Byrne, when he was chairman."

Commissioner Woody Thompson, a lame duck who will finish his term in two years, is quietly backing the efforts of Ott and Powell, our source says. That leaves Lee and Commissioner Helen Goreham the only Hankerson supporters, meaning if there was a vote now, he would lose 3-2. But the threesome would wind up with egg on their faces because the vote would most likely be reversed after Birrell is seated in January.

Hankerson is said to be embarrassed by these revelations coming out of the courthouse and hurt by those who have turned against him, but insiders say he'll probably try to ride out the storm with Birrell coming on board. However, some think Hankerson, who's in good health at 64 and apparently wants to continue working, may just look elsewhere for greener pastures and calmer waters after the first of the year. While he's been questioned since Olens left and Lee took over, Hankerson's resume certainly would be impressive - certainly his near decade stint with Olens during which Cobb had perhaps its most effective chairman/county manager team in the county's history.

As for Powell's intentions, our courthouse observer says she is stirring the pot because she wants a full term in her own right - and that she will go for the brass ring, the chairman's seat, in the 2012 election. A former colleague who served with Powell when she was on the commission previously (1986-90) says she has laser-like focus and the strongest work ethic of any member of the commission. This source said, "It's not surprising that she will go after a higher office."

There is also speculation that Ott will run for chairman next go-around. He denies it and says he needs to keep flying for Delta until he hits 60 because of the company's retirement plan.

The decision by Cobb Superior Court Judge Dorothy Robinson, who was served on the court since 1980 and is its most senior member, not to seek another term when her office expires on Dec. 31, 2012, has set in motion a scramble for that judgeship and for a position on the City Council.

Among those who are believed to vie for her seat are State Court Judge Roland R. Castellanos and State Court Chief Judge Toby Prodgers.

Although Councilman Van Pearlberg previously told Around Town that his ambition was to succeed District Attorney Pat Head, Pearlberg now intends to vie for Robinson’s position on the Cobb Superior Court, while prominent defense attorney Vic Reynolds intends to replace Head as DA.

News of Pearlberg’s plan has prompted a number of residents in Pearlberg’s Ward 4 to consider replacing him, most notable among them former Mayor Bill Dunaway, along with: Ray Worden, who owns a frame shop on Kennesaw Avenue; appraiser Mike Wilson, who formerly served as the Marietta Redevelopment Corporation’s broker; and former City Councilman Andy Morris. Morris beat Pearlberg in a 2001 runoff by six votes to replace retiring Paul Sabiston, although he did not seek re-election when his term expired in 2005 and Pearlberg replaced him.

City Council members are reportedly not doing backflips at the prospect of Dunaway returning to City Hall. Hearing that Dunaway would try to replace Pearlberg, Mayor Steve Tumlin quipped that should that happen, it would prompt Tumlin and his rival on the Council, Philip Goldstein, to become the best of friends.

Rumor has it that Dunaway wanted to seek another term as mayor but those close to him counciled him otherwise, saying it would probably lead to an embarrassing disaster.


Cobb County Division I State Court Judge Rusty Carlisle said he’s going to retire next month, going out the same way he came in — with Judge Nancy Campbell.

Carlisle took the bench in 1987 along with Campbell, and a going away party is planned for them on Dec. 17 on the third floor of the state court building from 2 to 4 p.m.

Carlisle said he announced he would retire back in April, but waited until after the election to say just when he was going to retire because he “liked the idea of keeping people in suspense” as to which governor — Sonny Perdue or Nathan Deal — would appoint his replacement. Carlisle said he has already advised Perdue of his retirement date, and Perdue will be the top dog with his pick for Carlisle’s replacement.

Around Town has learned the likely choice as Carlisle’s successor will come from among former prosecutor Marsha Lake, Cobb Division II State Court Judge Maria Golick or Rob Leonard, an attorney in private practice.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
November 27, 2010
mk: what is your problem? You are either a pathetic Gwinnetian who reads the mdj because you're bored in your parents' basement, or you are a pathetic Cobb resident who can't leave because that's where you're parents' basement is. If having to pay extra to sit in traffic (read HOT lanes) and having to deal with MARTA incompetence is your idea of the future, you can keep it. Loser
I agree
November 24, 2010
This comment is so on point, it needed to be said again,

"FROM TEXAS wrote on Tuesday, Nov 23 at 12:58 PM »

If Hankerson is so smart why is he caught up and so many shady deals; Madoff looked good until the money stopped flowing this is the same thing. Sam Olens was a master puppeteer and slid out clean!! This new SPLOST is a New Jersey pork roll at its best."

Tuesday Afternoon
November 23, 2010
The majority of the whiners I see on here attacking Bob Ott and Thea Powell are the same shady little crooks who seek to hold onto their money (which came from daddy and mommy) and play the Big Shot in Cobb and they see their future withering away.

I think Ott and Powell have the only "agenda" of exposing shady dealings and stuff that has been buried for years by the Olens regime.

Tim Lee was a protege of Olens, and the chickens (including the ones squawking on this post) are all coming home to roost.

Suck it up Boys and Girls...your shadiness is going to continue to be peeled-back and exposed to sunshine.
November 23, 2010
If Hankerson is so smart why is he caught up and so many shady deals; Madoff looked good until the money stopped flowing this is the same thing. Sam Olens was a master puppeteer and slid out clean!! This new SPLOST is a New Jersey pork roll at its best.
November 23, 2010
We can't afford to let Powell run the show. She's a Greenie and we can't afford that. Green stuff cost tons more money, just go look at our "green" courthouse. I'm green, but this "$$$" kind of green.

Ott and his staff will throw you under a bus and you'll never see it coming, just ask Hankerson.
mk- $$$$ talks!
November 23, 2010
Ditto, thinksmartcobb!

Gwinnett is on the fast track! They're working on the HOT lanes, finishing up key interstate ramps, & are positioning themselves to connect to MARTA. And if you don't think that is they way of the future , then you're living in a cave!

Look @ the poor conditions in Smyrna, Marietta, Austell, Six Flags, etc.,... then go out to Swuanee, & Duluth! That's were the new business is going!!

And the hillbillies running Cobbs cities are CLUELESS & still think it's 1970!
November 23, 2010
Tim Lee is a great guy who is doing everything he can to move Cobb towards new jobs and industry. All the while he has to deal with the three stooges Powell, Ott and Thompson running into each other all the time. I for one support Tim Lee and respect David Hankerson for his fine work up at the county. He is an asset to our community. Hopefully he can hold on until the appointed stooge leaves office. Then we will be left with Dumb and Dumber, what a great movie that will make.
No more powell
November 23, 2010
Laser like focus.... More like a laser pointer on an assault rifle. She is like Bobby's best weapon in his effort to overthrow Cobb's government. Put that guy in Central America and you have a another Chavez on your hands. Thea was ineffective as a commissioner before and so far has accomplished very little beyond fanning the flames of controversy. Hope she runs for Chair so Byrne can show her what true leadership is.
Where's Woody?
November 23, 2010
Had to laugh at Woody being called a lame duck. Poor guy has had a tough couple of years but that is not an excuse for his lack luster leadership on the board. From what I can see he is more like soft clay waiting for Bob Ott to mold him into the shape of the day. "Lets save money and close those government offices in south and west cobb!" Two weeks later..... "hummm we need to find a way to keep these open...." Come on commissioners take a stand, balance that budget and pick a path for Cobb's future. Talk about flip flop
Good LORD!
November 23, 2010
Please someone help us get things cleaned up down at county government. I have never seen so much wheeling and dealing when it comes to hurting folks. Look at Hankerson. The guy has played a big role in Cobb's success but a couple of things the commissioners did are being hung on him. You folks need to take a closer look in the mirror. I don't think Cobb has been doing things wrong, instead I suspect our Thea "come lately" Powell and Bob "boy wonder" Ott are so busy trying to advance their own political agendas that they will destroy Cobb's government by misrepresenting the facts to make things look so bad. You two and the Woody T. make a fine team.
one eyed OTT
November 23, 2010
How is it that Ott can vote yes to buy the mules, balance the county budget with street light money, approve the dump truck purchase and then stand back, hold his nose and claim that he is not going to tolerate these dealings? Must be walking around with one eyed closed because figuring out right from wrong should not be that hard, unless your are only looking our for yourself and maybe a run for county chairman.
Concerned in Cobb
November 23, 2010
Why doesn't someone check to see if O'Dell Park which was done away with to build the Bedminster facility was built with state funds and/or general obligation bonds, was that legal? If the park was destroyed, would the county have to pay the funds back or would it be considered a criminal offense?
November 23, 2010
Cobb voters, you were warned! Tim Lee is so crooked that he makes a death-row inmate appear pleasant! Perhaps Thea Powell is just the person to run against Tim Lee for Chairperson, after this, his "trial-run" as Chairman. But, Bob Ott shouldn't run for Chairman -- he'll throw anyone off the bus, too.

Let's focus on job creation in Cobb, for a change. Some Cobb residents are moving closer to where the jobs are -- namely, Gwinnett County. Cobb should have been recruiting mid-size employers all these years, but hasn't. Now, we are stuck in traffic going to Gwinnett, IF we have jobs at all.

Nix the idea of a March 2011 SPLOST vote, too. Why? Because we are hurting economically -- the worst time to put "wants" (instead of "needs") on the ballot for a 1% continuation in sales tax revenue. Let voters keep their 1% for a change -- and see how quickly the local economy starts to recover!!!

Until Cobb gets more experienced, devoted, honest leadership, we are all paying taxes to support the worst example of governance.
Get Real
November 23, 2010
Around Town has lost sight of the piece that strings your gossip stories together - Sam Olens - keep touting him to be one of the finest,the amazing leader, how he made Cobb County The Finest - WHAT A LOAD OF ----, He leaves and all his lies and hidden illegal activity is surfacing. Stop blaming the commissioners who are there now and start doing real reporting. Hankerson and Olens have a lot of hidden items buried deep, I am sure they told Lee but he has forgotten!!!!
Pat H
November 23, 2010
Pretty good recap of the dirty dealings of our county manager and officials. However, you forgot about the used dump trucks purchased from Hankerson's friend that had higher mileage than the trucks they were to replace. Since Hankerson's friend went out of business, the county purchased his used dump trucks - this never happened before or since.

Also, the streetlight fees amounting to millions of dollars that have been used for other purposes.

The fact that our DA is about to retire and is short timing is very obvious.
November 23, 2010
No Sam Olens was good at the New York City shell game; the building has stopped and Sam saw the perfect opportunity to jump and leave Jethro Bodine holding the bag. Jethro or Tim Bob doesn’t have even a hint of personality and can’t play the shell game and the money is gone. As for Hankerson if you tell the truth you don’t have to make a lie, he probably wishes he had records now to refer to!! Helen Goreham won’t through Tim Bob a life he openly recruited people to run against her.
That Guy
November 22, 2010
Can we just start over and see if the voters can get it right the second time around. They did a good job in the state elections but have done a royal screw up on our local leaders. Cobb County used to be well ahead of its time, time has caught up and left them behind.
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