According to a blog entry on Tomi Johnson’s Wingcom Watchdog website, Lee called constituents who don’t want light rail in Cobb “spoiled brats” during a Friday meeting with members of the Georgia Community Coalition. He also told the group that racism and money were hampering him, according to the website.
In a Monday email to the Journal, Lee attempted to retract his remarks.
“Let me apologize for calling anyone a spoiled brat,” he wrote. “Sometimes my passion for an issue gets ahead of me and I certainly wish I had chosen a better description.”
Lee wrote that the people he referred to were “those who are opposed to every new idea for bringing more jobs and prosperity to Cobb County.”
After the town hall Monday, his fourth in 2012, Lee refused to comment on whether or not he made comments about racism or other specific charges in Johnson’s blog.
When notified of Lee’s remarks, Jan Barton, a project management consultant who was one of about 50 people who attended Monday’s town hall at the South Cobb Community Center, said it was not appropriate for a chairman to call voters names. She said many of the critics of the light rail line are mainly concerned about the 1 percent sales tax that would be needed to pay for it, which could cost families hundreds of dollars a year.
“On first blush, that does not seem like a very positive thing for him to have that attitude toward his constituents,” she said. “It shows a lack of sensitivity to people who are struggling to make ends meet or buy groceries.”
Georgia Community Coalition Chairman Coakley Pendergrass said Monday that his group met with Lee because members were displeased that the final project list for the Transportation Investment Act, which Lee helped craft as part of a 21-member regional roundtable, took out light rail as one of Cobb’s projects, replacing it instead with a $689 million earmark for a premium bus route between Acworth and Midtown.
Pendergrass said his group seeks to improve conditions for south Cobb residents, and better public transportation would go be a major asset. He felt the rail line, which would have initially been built from the Cumberland Mall area to Midtown, would have improve transit for the entire county.
“We wanted some clarity on the rail,” Pendergrass said. “The coalition thinks that rail would be a positive action for the Cobb County area. We felt that rail brings progress and that type of progress brings buses.”
Pendergrass said he also wanted to let Lee know that the group hoped the Cobb Board of Commissioners would use part of the 15 percent local portion of the tax, which each commissioner allocates to be used for specific projects in the county, to reinstate three bus routes that served south Cobb that were cut last year.
The coalition is in the midst of a voter drive in south Cobb. Pendergrass said he has already registered 108 people himself.
Pendergrass, an associate minister at Turner Chapel A.M.E. Church in Marietta, said his organization supports President Barack Obama and a number of local Democratic candidates, including State Sen. Doug Stoner and Rep. Stacey Evans, both of Smyrna, but he called Lee a Republican he can personally support.
“I believe he is trying to help,” Pendergrass said.
Lee said he isn’t concerned that his meeting with the Democratic-leaning coalition will harm him in the upcoming Republican Primary.
“They’re all Cobb County constituents,” he said. “I have a responsibility to each and every one of ’em. To hear their concerns and discuss options and try to do what we can where it’s appropriate … It’s not a Democrat-Republican issue. It’s a community interest issue.”
Voters in a 10-county metro Atlanta area will have their say on the TIA referendum and its $6.1 billion project list on July 31.
Sky Rector of Vinings said he wishes Lee would develop a consistent position on the transportation tax issue.
“I think that it’s unclear to me where Tim Lee stands,” Rector said after the 1½-hour meeting. “He’s on one side one week, he’s on another side another week. He wanted fixed rail, then he wanted light rail, then he wanted an enhanced bus system. It’s crazy. I don’t have a good understanding, really, of where he is with it.”
While TIA-related questions took up much of the 40-minute question-and-answer session, Lee faced questions on several south Cobb-related issues. One man said he has to keep his door closed at his house on Maple Street in Mableton because of the smell of marijuana smoke and noise outside, while Monica DeLancy, a candidate for the area’s place on the Board of Commissioners, expressed concerns over construction equipment being left out for kids to play on while the county’s work on Six Flags Drive sidewalks is on hold because of weather.
Lee said the county would deal with the issues.
“There’s nothing more attractive to a 6-year-old than a tractor,” he said.
Lee also said the county would be adding a new position to administer its South Cobb Implementation Strategy, which seeks to transform various studies that have been done on the area into a “clear, concise” strategy. Lee said he did not know how much the new person would be paid.
Elected officials at the meeting included State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell), southwest Cobb Commissioner Woody Thompson and Superior Court Judge Reuben Green, all of whom are up for re-election this year.
Other candidates included Anne Taylor, who is running against Morgan; Mike Boyce and Larry Savage, two of Lee’s opponents for chairman; Lisa Cupid and Connie Taylor, who like DeLancy are running for Thompson’s seat; Cobb district attorney candidate Vic Reynolds; Cobb state judge candidates Joyette Holmes and Marsha Lake; and Nathan Wade and Van Pearlberg, both running for Cobb Superior Court judge positions.