Around Town: ‘Eating Cobb’s Lunch’? FBI probe of Gwinnett’s commissioners puts local talk in new light
by Otis Brumby, Bill Kinney and Joe Kirby
Around Town Columnists
June 05, 2012 12:00 AM | 4318 views | 13 13 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
COBB CHAMBER OFFICIALS and several commissioners and others in the local development community have warned for years that their counterparts in Gwinnett County were “eating Cobb’s lunch” when it came to working effectively with local government officials to entice development. To hear them tell it, Gwinnett’s closed-door setup was the epitome of chamber-government cooperation.

Such envy takes on a different color today in the wake of Thursday’s abrupt resignation of Gwinnett Commissioner Shirley Lasseter in connection with her guilty plea that day to taking $36,500 in bribes. The ongoing corruption investigation by the FBI also snared her son and a businessman said to be her “bag man.” Moreover, Lasseter is the third Gwinnett commissioner to resign from office under a cloud in the past two years. Chairman Charles Bannister departed after a grand jury began looking into questionable land deals. Commissioner Kevin Kenerly did the same and was later indicted on bribery charges.

U.S. Attorney Sally Yates described the episode as part of “an ongoing effort to root out public corruption,” strongly hinting there is more to come. A Gwinnett grand jury has already concluded the county overpaid by millions of dollars for land acquisitions and that the beneficiaries had been friends and political allies of the commissioners.

So much for Gwinnett’s government-Chamber partnership being the “holy grail” of development partnerships. “Rotten to the core” might be more like it. It’s fair to say that a lack of governmental and public oversight of that setup is partly to blame for what went wrong. The debacle cannot be attributed just to the greed of those involved.

The Cobb Chamber’s ties to the county government and the county development authority have come in for their share of deserved criticism in recent years. Yes, we have had our share of problems here, but public corruption has rarely been one of them. Cobb’s saving grace has been the public’s insistence on accountability and transparency, buttressed by the vigorous use of the state’s Sunshine Laws by local media to make sure that was the case. It’s also fair to say that county, Chamber and business leaders involved in Cobb’s development through the years appear to have had a more refined sense of right and wrong than their counterparts in Gwinnett.

But what happened there should be taken as a warning of what can easily happen when powerful officials, unscrupulous developers, large sums of money and a lack of public oversight intersect.

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COBB School Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa is not going to the Model Schools Conference in Orlando June 24-27. The MDJ’s Pete Borden incorrectly reported otherwise in his column last week.

But based on Hinojosa’s recent comments to the MDJ about how 90 percent of the system’s costs are personnel-driven, how $40 million will have to be cut from next year’s budget and the pressing need to find “a less costly model” for educating students; and based on reports that conference leader Dr. Bill Daggett offers radical new thinking on how to achieve that goal, perhaps Hinojosa should be going. Moreover, he should be going, rather than sending an army of 150 other Cobb educators down there.

That’s assuming, of course, that the conference is all it’s touted to be. We hope Daggett’s philosophy has more substance than that espoused by the star attraction of another conference that readers might remember. That would be the district’s 2005 decision under then-Super Joe Redden to send 54 staffers to Boston for a conference hosted by $8,000-a-day lecturer Alan November, who advocated “self-directed learning” and urged educators to let students learn by surfing the Internet.

His faddish philosophy boiled down to, as he put it, “Teach less, Learn more.”

We bet.

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MARIETTA lawyer Roger Plichta and sister, Sharon Quigley, an attorney in Chicago, attended an invitation-only reception and dinner with all nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Court building in Washington Tuesday evening in conjunction with their membership in the Supreme Court Historical Society. Around Town directed Plichta to pry hints from the nine on how they planned to rule on Obamacare. ... Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens of east Cobb will headline the Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally at noon Friday in Athens. The event will aim at Obamacare’s mandate that all employers — including faith-based schools and hospitals — must provide free contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs in their health plans.

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POLITICS: Kurt and Elizabeth Shreiner will conduct a fundraiser at their home from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday for Cobb Commission Chairman candidate Mike Boyce. … Jim Carroll, Don Westbrook and Bob Terrell will conduct a barbecue for chair candidate Bill Byrne from 5 to 9 p.m. June 14 at Carroll’s home, 453 Kelly Drive in east Cobb. ... The Cobb Civic Coalition will present a forum for Cobb Commission chair candidates from 7 to 9 p.m. July 10 in the Commissioners Meeting Room, 100 Cherokee St. in Marietta, reports President Ron Sifen.

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SICK BAY: The Rev. Sam Storey, senior associate pastor emeritus at First United Methodist Church in Marietta, was admitted to WellStar Kennestone Hospital on Sunday suffering from severe pain in his hip and leg, and some chest pain. He underwent a heart catheter procedure May 23-25, the latest of more than a dozen heart-related procedures in the past two decades.

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BRETT BITTNER, who will run unopposed after qualifying last week for the Ward 1 seat on the Marietta School Board vacated by incumbent Logan Weber’s move out of state, is believed to be just the third member of the Libertarian Party to hold office in Georgia. Bittner is the executive director of the Libertarian Party of Georgia and, among other things, argued on local TV last fall in favor of an “Open Borders” policy between the U.S. and Mexico.

Bittner is no stranger to Marietta politics. He serves on Marietta’s Historic Board of Review, having been appointed by Ward 1 Councilwoman Annette Lewis. And is he vice president of the Cobb Taxpayers Association, which is fighting the TSPLOST.

Cobb’s and Georgia’s best-known Libertarian Party member is — or was — former Republican Congressman Bob Barr of Marietta, who after losing his congressional seat was the Libertarian Party’s nominee for president in 2008. But Barr lately seems to be back in the Republican fold, having given strong consideration earlier this year to running in the Republican Primary against northwest Georgia U.S. Rep. Tom Graves.

SPEAKING of our Southern border, the Rev. Jeff Jones, pastor of the Emerson Unitarian Universalist Congregation and an occasional MDJ letter writer, will head to Agua Prieta, Mexico, just over the border from Douglas, Ariz., for 10 days later this month to minister to Mexicans recently deported from the U.S.

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IF MAYOR Steve Tumlin has his way, Marietta will soon join Cobb County among the first government jurisdictions in the country to employ U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers, or IMAGE, program. The program goes beyond using the federal E-verify system to check immigration status of employees in participating governments. The Cobb Board of Commissioners passed an IMAGE agreement with ICE on May 29. It submits the county to initial audits and inspections of its employment procedures, but the county is then exempted from additional government audits for two years if there are no problems.

Cobb is the first county in Georgia and one of 10 nationally to take part in the program.
Comments
(13)
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milton frisch
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June 11, 2012
Cobb EMC is wonderful example of high minded morality!
KSUsed
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June 10, 2012
I feel for every citizen trying to run a business playing by the rules. I always ask for insurance reference and business license before I hire. I will pay more but I will have a clear conscience.....and feel safer !
southernbychoice
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June 06, 2012
@mk-west cobb correct - I know whatyou mean. We are in the electrical business and everyday see people with rented equipment, or ladders on top of their vans, doing this work. I doubt very much they have either insurance or a business license. Strange, we have been reported several times - but have the insurance and have the business license. Seems some are exempt - others have their feet put to the fire. I think the city/county should use some of their code enforcement people to check some of these shopping centers, gas stations, etc to make sure these people doing this kind of work are legitimate. We pay our taxes, as I am sure you do, pay for business licenses and do the right thing - then many are forced out because a blind eye is cast toward so many others. Of course they can charge less - they have no overhead except for the equipment they might rent. Pretty sweet deal since I am sure they are paid in cash
TIC
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June 05, 2012
Is this the latest excuse that the Cobb Chamber has come up with to explain their less than competent performance in attracting new business to the county?

This has little to do with attracting new business. Whether it be Cobb or Gwinnett.

These are dubious deals in Gwinnett involving small time developers and dishonest commissioners and zoning scams.

Consider the Chambers recent sell out of the county taxpayers to the City of Atlanta, MARTA and local developers in the Cumberland CID by vigorously supporting the passage of the TIA/TSPLOST scam.

That involves the potential "theft" of almost $700 million from Cobb County taxpayers for the primary benefit of their buddies in Atlanta and the Cumberland CID.

When you put it in perspective Gwinnett's transgressions pale in comparison to what is about to happen to the Cobb taxpayers if the Chamber supported TSPLOST passes.

investigatet Smyrna
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June 05, 2012
There is a coverup in Smyrna.

I believe Smyrna city hall & SDDA, that includes Senator Doug Stoner, the mayor himself, ex school board Holi Cash's husband, mayors minion and bully, Sean Murphy and several adorned business owners in Smyrna.

City hall (mayor) plots out what areas to ignore & DEVALUE,.. then as a white knight,.. swoops in under the shroud of the SDDA, w/ taxpayers monies,.. and purchases them.

This is happening witout INPUT from the Smyrna citizens!!!

This is putting certain businesses OUT of business & promoting privledged business and businesses w/ connections to the SDDA & city hall.

It's just that when you've 'dictated' this plan in office for 30 years,.. you have bought enough people to keep it SILENCED!

I was SILENCED in Smyrna,.. I know what I speak!
West Cobb Resident
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June 05, 2012
"Reverend" Jones ought to spend his time ministering to those Americans out of a job due to illegal immigrants.
Do what???!!!
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June 05, 2012
The jobs that the "illegals" do are jobs that 99.9% of US citizens consider beneath them. For that matter, many of the jobs that are hardest to fill right now are the jobs that the illegals gave up and no "American" will consider. Before you throw the Rev. Jones under the bus, take a long hard look around you at the deteriorating American work ethic.
mk-west cobb correct
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June 05, 2012
..not so fast,... Do what???!!! know it all! MANY Americans have been displaced by the illegals taking over certain sectors of American job markets.

I am a residential house painter,... and still am,... altho' they've (illegals) tried to wipe us out,.. I have stood my ground, because I love what I do & love my customers.

My pay is less than I was making 10 years ago!

The paint industry was taken over by the Mexicans & some Russians.

The roofers are Guatemalens & El Salvadorians.

Floor refinishing,.. Brazillians.

Housecleaners,... Brazillian couples!

The carpenters, granite and stone guys, plumbers & electricians are from different countries!!

It is a crime what is happening to struggling, hard working Americans, just so the rich can get richer!!
Excuses
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June 07, 2012
We have become a nation of excuses it's always some one elses fault (mexicans, russian, brazilians, etc.)that our businesses are successful. Take personal responsibility and stop blaming others for your ineptness.
@do what
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June 08, 2012
You are so wrong-- I will bet you do not hve a clue as to the cost of the illegal immigration problem., Are you really Rich Pellegrino??
Lawrence Bittner
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June 05, 2012
Are you kidding me? Give it up, MDJ!!

Surely you cannot be dredging up Alan November's 2005 conference!!!! This constant drum beat against anything Cobb Schools does or has ever done is a bit ridiculous.

History Same
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June 05, 2012
If you are really Mr. Bittner speaking, I am glad that I am in the Cobb school district instead of the City of Marietta. The MDJ reminding readers of past (and some not so long ago) CCSD actions is necessary because you have new people move in and the other residents have very short memories.

Concerning the conference in FL, if the CCSD wanted to learn anything there, a contingent of 4 to 6 people could probably have learned the same amount of information that 150 attendees wil supposedly learn.
Last GA Democrat
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June 05, 2012
Gwinnett doesn't eat Cobb's lunch, but eats darn near EVERYBODY'S lunch, obviously, when it comes to development partnerships.

But then again, it's easy to eat everybody's lunch when developers are paying the full cost.

Although, many in Gwinnett have remarked that the $36,500 bribe that Lasseter got caught taking would have been six or seven figures in better economic times.

I guess that it's all apart of the "Art of the Shady Land Deal".
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