Commissioners say 2 CIDs’ donations need more review
by Geoff Folsom
gfolsom@mdjonline.com
April 06, 2012 12:00 AM | 3088 views | 22 22 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MARIETTA — Two members of the Cobb Board of Commissioners take issue with donations from the county’s two community improvement districts to a group charged with educating the public about the upcoming Transportation Investment Act referendum.

Southwest Cobb’s Woody Thompson, a Democrat, said the legality of donations of $370,000 by the Cumberland CID and $200,000 from the Town Center CID to the Metro Atlanta Voter Education Network is “questionable.”

Lynn Rainey, attorney for both CIDs, has said the donations are OK because MAVEN performs a “nonpartisan, factually neutral voter education activities,” rather than an advocacy group, like the Citizens for Transportation Mobility Inc.

But Thompson said the CIDs should get a second opinion.

“This business about being education, as opposed to promoting it, I think is a fine line,” Thompson said. “It’s a legal matter; somebody probably needs to look it over.”

Southeast Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott, a Republican, said the CIDs need to do their research before giving to MAVEN.

“I just think that anybody who contributes to MAVEN needs to be careful about not having a conflict of interest,” he said.

Ott, who opposes the $6.1 billion TIA project list and the 1 percent sales tax that would pay for it, questions whether MAVEN is acting as an educator or advocate.

“It’s my belief that if you are interested in educating the public, you should present both sides of the issue,” he said. “If you are going to only present one side or the other, I would say that group is an advocate.”

Cobb Chairman Tim Lee, a Republican who served on the 21-member Atlanta Regional Roundtable, which created the project list, said he believes the contributions the CIDs have made are for educational purposes and completely within the law.

“This discussion comes up every time there’s a SPLOST, and it’s been discussed to death,” he said. “I’m satisfied that they’re following the law.”

The issue of CID donations came into question after Larry Savage of east Cobb, one of Lee’s opponents in the July 31 Republican Primary race for chairman, wrote a letter to commissioners and got a response from Rainey.

Northeast Cobb Commissioner JoAnn Birrell said she planned to meet with County Attorney Dorothy Bishop on Monday to discuss one of Savage’s requests, that the Board of Commissioners “exercise its authority” over the CIDs in order to bring them in line with their stated purpose. Birrell questions whether the county has any such authority.

“I’m not sure we have the authority to control them,” Birrell said. “They’re created by the Legislature, and their money comes from their (business) members.”

Birrell said she isn’t sure if MAVEN is advocating for the TIA, since all the ads she has seen promoting the referendum were paid for by Citizens for Transportation Mobility.

Efforts to reach northwest Cobb Commissioner Helen Goreham were not successful.
Comments
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FROM TEXAS
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April 06, 2012
Savage has my vote he was the only one to step up last time to run against Tim Water Boy Lee. The hidden tax is collected is taxpayer money there needs to be new legislation on the crooked CID’s. They should have to donate to our cause to stop the TSPLOST. These are all phony ads and made up surveys and they know it; that’s why they are stone walling Craig K, Craig has hit a nerve and the truth is coming out about the rigged game you might as well be at the Carnival it’s the same odds!!
Get a CLUE
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April 06, 2012
Forrest and trees don't even compute here as you are in a vast wasteland no a deserted Island of stupid.

COMMERCIAL property owners within the CID elect to (contribute, invest, or tax) themselves OVER (in addition, plus, extra) the county tax rate on their property, which funds the CID. It is not taxpayer money even though it is collected by the County Tax office and then is remitted to the CID. If you live in cobb county and are outside the CID, NONE (zero, zilch, nada) of your tax dollars go to fund the CID activities. Even if you owned a home within the CID, that is personal, not commercial property and you would not be contributing.

From what I have read about CID's and the good work they do improving the infrastructure within their areas, the county as a whole is a net beneficiary of their work.
irked
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April 06, 2012
When the Cumberland CID contributes to M.A.V.I.N. - or to the Cobb SPLOST campaign as they did - they act outside their physical boundaries.
SG68
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April 06, 2012
I think this issue deserves a look. Thank you to the commissioners that are suggesting that.

In this case you are dealing with a very savvy and unfortunately, very devious, self interested group of people.

They have been through this before and are well advised on what they can and can't say and how they can say it without blatantly violating the law.

They also have the where with all to hire marketing firms that know how to craft the "unbiased message" so that they are advocating without seeming to do so.

What do they call it?

Oh yeah, subliminal messaging.

I know it sounds a little paranoid and conspiritorial, but just something to consider as you watch the tv commercials and read their printed materials and other forms of propaganda.

Is it overtly illegal? Probably not.

It just balances on the thin edge of the applicable law.

Is it unethical and disingenuous? Without a doubt.

Just ask yourself this very basic question.

Why would a group of developers and major property owners (and that's what the CID's and their boards are comprised of) put so much money behind an effort if it wasn't going be of significant benefit them?

They wouldn't.

When have you ever seen a developer do something for the general good and welfare of the community. Unless, of course, they were coerced or they were expecting much more in return?

It is the nuances and underlying implications in the messages that MAVEN and ARC are distributing that are so one sided.

They are manipulating the TIA to reach beyond their own limited self taxing districts to gain access to the TIA tax revenues generated by taxpayers from a ten county area to bolster and promote their developments and property values.

Sure, a few of the projects will have provide some minimal transportation benefits to the public at large.

but

That's the just cost of business and to them a small price to pay to get their greedy hands on a $7 Billion pot of money.

Rest assured that most of the projects will directly benefit the developers and property owners who are financing the MAVEN propaganda campaign

and

will have little, if any, positive impact on Metro Atlanta's transportation problems.
ProJour
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April 06, 2012
"...but just something to consider as you watch the tv commercials and read their printed materials and other forms of propaganda....It just balances on the thin edge of the applicable law....Is it unethical and disingenuous? Without a doubt."

You can say the same about every political ad running, no?

THE TRUTH
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April 06, 2012
WOW, what an outright attack on free enterprise. This kind of populist hokum may sound good when you are typing it in your basement or practicing it in front of the mirror, or even when you are sharing it with your occupy whatever buddies but it is complete tripe.

Have you even looked at the project list? I am starting to wonder because the stuff you are writing just simply does not match reality.

Is 75 at Windy Hill not a traffic problem? How about 285 and 400? 285 at I-20?

If it means moving people, goods and services more rapidly through our region, then I would say, it will definitely have a positive impact on everyone. Yes, even commercial property owners will benefit.

You cannot have it both ways. You cannot on the one hand say all of these developers and property owners will somehow benefit and on the other say that the project list will have no impact on our transportation problems.

Go back to the basement and figure that one out.
SG68
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April 06, 2012
@ THE TRUTH

WOW!! To use your favorite articulate colloquialism.

Three meaningful transportation projects out of how many on the TIA project list?

Again WOW!!

I am so grateful for those bones that have been tossed under the table for Atlanta commuters to chew on while the rest of the steak is gobbled up by the special interests.

Please forgive me!!

I have looked at the project list and when I do I don't know whether to laugh out loud or scream in frustration and anger.

Like I said and I reiterate, a lion's share of the funding in the project list is aimed at property and development value enhancement NOT regional transportation solutions.

Only a few of the projects, and you probably named every one of them, are aimed at our traffic congestion issues.

and

There is a vast difference between practicing free enterprise and hoodwinking the public with a bunch of slick misinformation so you can profit at their expense.

Were the carpetbaggers practicing free enterprise when they were last in the Atlanta area?

Well here they are again!!!

cobb commuter
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April 07, 2012
I am in sales and a weekly commuter all across this region visiting clients taking appointments with prospects and the like. I have taken a serious look at this project list because I want to make sure it has serious projects that are going to make a real difference for me in my daily activities. From my research the major choke points within the region are being sufficiently addressed in this project list and prospect of having some real congestion relief, has me leaning toward support for this referendum.

I am still doing my research but I don't think it would be accurate to say that the projects proposed would have little positive impact on our transportation problems when all of the major areas of concern are being addressed.
SG68
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April 09, 2012
@ cobb commuter

I concur. Some of the projects (285 @ 400 and 285 @ I-20) do address some of our congestion issues.

That's good.

However, those type of meaningful projects are few and far between. A major portion of the TIA revenues are going to projects that have little or no impact on our regional transportation issues.

That's the problem. we could do much, much more if the project list was more targeted toward regional transportation solutions rather than ineffective local projects and special interest cronyism.

If you live in Cobb name one project that will significantly impact the I-75 congestion from I-575 to I-285.

mk - be honest
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April 06, 2012
All this fighting, distrust & dishonesty in Cobb, has really set Cobb way, way back!

Who can't see that Gwinnett is a powerhouse!

Look at all the manufacturing & tech jobs they've managed to attract! All of ya- go take a ride up Peachtree Industrial= stop in Norcross, Duluth & Suwanee! They are building VERY livible communities!

Then come ride up Cobb Parkway- see Smyrna , Powder Springs & Austell.

If ya can't grasp it,.. ya shouldn't be in charge of decision making!!

Feeding off of that is even more growth-Athens-Clark County has had new job growth , then this weeks announcement of Carter bringing 600 jobs to Braselton.

Gwinnett probably sees Cobb as a joke!

I know the ITP people do!
Lovin Cobb
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April 10, 2012
mk - be honest

I've worked in Gwinnett County off and on from 1980 to 2005. You can keep it. I'll take my Kennesaw - Acworth community any day of the week over Gwinnett.
irked
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April 06, 2012
Simply stating that the TSPLOST will relieve regional congestion is a biased statement.

The project list was a grab bag, not the result of an engineering plan.

not so fast
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April 06, 2012
Each of the projects on the regional project list was already in the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) Ten county region Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) which is also part of the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) so your statement that the project list is a "grab bag" and "not the result of an engineering plan" is on its face a Lie. Now it may come from ignorance or you may be intentionally trying to deceive people. Either way, you should know your assertions are incorrect.
irked
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April 06, 2012
When the TSPLOST project list was complete, was an engineering study done to determine the effect on the entire network?

Are we simply moving the congestion around?

These would be questions for Tim Lee and Mark Mathews. They are the experts that made the decisions.

Did they base their decisions on traffic engineering studies?

Simply throwing money at a problem doesn't solve it.
TIC
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April 06, 2012
@ not so fast

Two points:

The project list was NOT limited the the projects in the TIP (see Investment criteria for the TIA adopted by the Rondtable 12/17/11, page 3, second listed item under roman numeral III)

and

even if it was (limited to the TIP), the Roundtable still "cherry picked" the projects that would benefit their own self interests the most.

They did not pick the projects in the TIP that would have the most beneficial impact on the transportation problems in the Metro Atlanta area.
Disgusted withit
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April 06, 2012
'Education' which only deals with one side of an issue. Just what we should expect from Tim Lee.
irked
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April 06, 2012
CIDs have no authority to operate outside their boundaries and there is no provision ANYWHERE (The constitution, the enabling legislation, or the enabling resolution) that allows for "Education" - or (more honestly) "Marketing".

URKiddingRight?
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April 06, 2012
@ irked

I think you may be correct.

It seems as though the CID's are using this TIA to glom onto tax revenues that are generated outside their own taxing districts.

Why limit themselves when they can spend a few "advertising" dollars and significantly increase the pot of taxpayer money to which they have access.

Now they will have a $7 billion slush fund to "leverage" their district generated dollars against.

Although not very admirable or ethical, if they can get away with it, it is pretty smart.

Don't believe that stuff about a set project list.

Once the TIA tax is passed they will undoubtably figure out a way to funnel that money to the projects they want funded.
Confused Voter
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April 06, 2012
I have read some of the materials from the MAVEN group mentioned in this article and they appear to be very fact based, devoid of any opinion or editorial comment. From them I have learned when the vote is, what projects voters will be asked to approve, exactly how much money is being raised, how the money is being raised and for how long. Information I did not have before I read the materials. In essence this was an educational piece and at no point did I believe I was being led to decide one way or another how to vote. My question to Commissioner Ott would be that if he is so concerned about having the other side represented, what would the other sides educational piece look like? I have tried to come up with some ideas but so far I am staring at a blank piece of paper. Maybe that is it.
get it Right
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April 06, 2012
Commissioner Thompson, you have already been bitten by the snake on the Board. Please don't fall for a want to be reporter baiting you. It is no surprise that Ott is against the CID, TIA and everything that Chairman Olens and Lee have done and/or stood for. But you don't have to go along with this just because it is the easy thing to say given the audience. Remember, when you play with snakes (Ott, Nickols, etc.), you will get bit. Haven't you already experienced that?
anonymous
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April 06, 2012
What we are seeing with the CIDs is exactly how unaccountable quasi-government authorities get away with doing whatever the heck they feel they want to do. Its easy when you answer to no one. And when no one like Joanne Birrell) has the balls to challenge them...well, the taxpayers get hosed.

Dear Leader Obama would be very proud of what Cobb County has allowed with the two CIDs.

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