The council-appointed, 12-person board, most of whose members are highly capable and probably overqualified for the position, held a "retreat" on Wednesday to determine the MRC's future. But that gathering at Chairman Ron Francis' First Landmark Bank soon metamorphosed into a gripe session.
When the City Council formed the MRC in 2003, it patterned it after a highly successful organization in Chattanooga, but there are key differences. For where the Chattanooga group received $13 million in private money, largely from a wealthy Coca-Cola bottler during boom times, the MRC received $2.1 million from the City Council and borrowed additional money from the Bank of North Georgia to buy 10 scattered acres of blighted properties across Powder Springs Road downhill from the Hilton Marietta Conference Center.
The MRC also became bogged down in the unhappy politics of Tax Allocation District financing. City Hall's then-preference for hefty TAD subsidies as the go-to tool for redevelopment, and their checkered track record, prompted Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon to quip that "Marietta's given TADs a bad name for everybody."
But before the MRC could flip the overpriced property, and even before it could become the beneficiary of one of the city's bloated TADs, the bottom fell out of the market. That left the MRC the owner of rundown properties worth just a fraction of the pumped-up prices it had paid for them. And it also has left the city in the unsavory position of being a slumlord for those properties for the foreseeable future.
One of the MRC's lead critics, Councilman and Marietta Square land czar Philip Goldstein, has predicted the MRC will never be able to recover its investment. MRC Chair Francis said it presently owes $4.1 million to Bank of North Georgia, with little chance of receiving any more funding from the city.
Meantime, the city is left footing the bill for the MRC staff, executive director Reggie Taylor and his assistant, Teresa Sabree, along with some operating funding, which has totaled $757,869 over the last three fiscal years. Taylor has been controversial ever since he was hired by Bruton, while one MRC member said Sabree is known for bringing erroneous data to board meetings - when she remembers to bring data at all.
Several MRC board members say if City Manager Bill Bruton was as bottom-line-oriented as he claims to be, he would have long ago eliminated those superfluous positions and allowed the city's far more competent economic development department run by Beth Sessoms and former Acworth Mayor Mike Donahoo to serve as the MRC's staff. But Bruton has whiffed at any such recommendation, even though he annually boasts of how tight-fisted the city's budget is.
Besides, it's not as if Sessoms is exactly overworked with her "Green Tech Corridor" project, which to date has simply resulted in a study, along with the city buying a Franklin Road apartment complex on the cheap.
But look for Councilman Anthony Coleman to rush to Taylor's defense. Believe it or not, but Coleman has made the astounding argument that the city has an obligation to keep Taylor employed since Taylor moved from the Chicago area when the city hired him in 2008. Why Coleman believes it's the taxpayers' duty to keep someone employed says much about Coleman's politics.
The bottom line is that two things are needed in order to reawaken the city's redevelopment plans: a long-overdue uptick in the economic climate, and strong business and political leadership to re-establish the city as a desirable place for the private sector to invest.
MARIETTA attorney Nathan Wade has announced plans to run next year against new Cobb Superior Court Judge Reuben Green.
Wade ran unsuccessfully for Superior Court judge in 2010, losing to incumbent Dorothy Robinson by a 3-to-1 margin. Robinson, who was the first woman elected to the Cobb Superior Court bench and is also the most tenured member of that bench, having served since 1980, announced last week that she will retire when her term expires at the end of next year.
Three attorneys have already announced for Robinson's seat: senior assistant Cobb District Attorney (and Marietta Councilman) Van Pearlberg, State Court Judge Roland Castellanos and Juvenile Court Judge Greg Poole. So even though Wade would be facing an incumbent in Green, he apparently figures his odds would be better than they would be trying to come out atop a four-man field for Robinson's former seat.
Wade would be the first African-American ever to sit on the Cobb Superior Court bench if elected.
Wade, an east Cobb resident, was a political science and economics major at Texas State University in San Marcos and earned his law degree at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago. He has served as president of the Cobb County Youth Scholarship program and is a member of the Cobb Bar Association. Wade and his wife, Joycelyn, have two children.
Green, an ex-Marine, is a former assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia and a former Cobb assistant D.A. He is the husband of Heidi Green, who served as Georgia economic development commissioner for global commerce during the Sonny Perdue administration.
The first asks listeners whether, with the understanding that passage of the 1 percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax would provide funding for police, fire, emergency services and better roads, they are inclined to 1 - vote for it, 2 - are leaning toward voting for it, 3 - are leaning toward voting against it, or 4 - are planning to vote against it.
The second question asks whether, knowing that SPLOST passage would keep Cobb's property taxes the lowest in the metro area, the listener plans to vote for it, is leaning in favor of it, leaning against it or plans to vote against it.
No word on who is paying for the poll, but it seems obvious that that it is a pro-SPLOST group.
WILL DWIGHT BROWN step down as leader of Cobb EMC on Monday, as stipulated in a December 2008 settlement agreement with suing members? That agreement calls for him to step down by the last day of February 2011, which is Monday.
"Right now, I know nothing to the contrary," co-op spokesman Sam Kelly said late Friday afternoon. He told the Journal two weeks ago that "the board has a process in place and has actively sought external and internal resumes."
David Cohen, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the civil suit, earlier said if Brown does not retire on or before the February date, "We will move to address that with the court. ... He'd be in violation of a court order because the court made all terms of the settlement agreement a part of its final order and judgment."
The civil suit against the co-op, filed by a handful of member-owners led by Butch Thompson and Bo Pounds, alleged breach of fiduciary duty, gross mismanagement, waste of corporate assets and unjust enrichment in relation to the management and operations of the co-op and Cobb Energy.
The settlement, approved Dec. 2, 2008, called for Cobb Energy to be brought back under the umbrella of the co-op, for all failing companies started by Energy to be liquidated and for Brown to retire when his contract is up at the end of this month.
Waiting 26 months for Brown to retire was not something at least one suing member was happy about. Immediately after the settlement hearing, Pounds said: "I'm not satisfied. ... I wanted Mr. Brown gone."
Stay tuned. ...
Buckner, whose father was a minister, is the retired president of American Atheists and a frequent MDJ letter to the editor writer. He'll follow his sermon by teaching an 11:30 a.m. Sunday school class.