Writing to county chairman Tim Lee in a Dec. 3 letter, Bishop said it was with mixed emotions that she decided after 19 years on the job it was time for a change.
“I have appreciated, enjoyed, and been challenged by my work for Cobb County, and dare to hope my tenure has served the county and my office’s clients well,” Bishop writes. “I will certainly miss the daily association with people I respect and value, but am comforted by the knowledge that I leave my office in the good hands of very capable and motivated attorneys and legal assistants who have the best interests of the county at heart and will continue to serve with distinction. In that knowledge I would make so bold as to urge you to give strong consideration to promoting from within to fill the position.”
Bishop, who earns a salary of $156,165, was hired in 1994 as an in-house county attorney. With a staff of 9 attorneys and two fulltime and three part-time legal assistants and an annual budget of more than $1.8 million, the county attorney’s office, along with associated outside counsel, represents and provides legal counsel to all departments of county government, the five-member Board of Commissioners, and other elected and appointed Cobb County officials, including the sheriff; the tax commissioner; the tax assessor; the Superior Court clerk; and State Court judges, clerks, and administrative staff, county spokesman Robert Quigley said.
Lee said he would try to have a replacement by February.
“I wish her well in her retirement,” Lee said. “She’s been an excellent asset to Cobb County for the last 19 years as county attorney.”
Bishop is an Osborne High School Class of 1954 graduate. Before entering the legal profession, she worked in the training department at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation in the late 1950s. She has an economics degree from Emory University and earned a law degree from Emory in 1985, where she was a member of the honor society the Order of the Coif. She and her husband, E. Neil Bishop, a commercial general contractor, have two children and six grandchildren ages 9 to 24. Bishop is a member of New Hope United Methodist Church and holder of various lay offices since 1962, as well as a lifetime member of the YWCA of Northwest Georgia, where she has served on its board of directors and as its president.
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, who worked with Bishop while he was county chairman, praised her work.
“Dottie has been an excellent manager of the law department,” Olens said. “The issues are diverse and were handled in a timely manner.”
County Manager David Hankerson said Bishop and her team led the way on some pretty big cases for Cobb.
“One of their most notable was a challenge by the ACLU focused on the Board of Commissioners and Planning Commission,” Hankerson said. “We had been allowing invocations to be given by clergy of various religious groups in our community prior to meetings. Commissioners felt that Cobb’s residents should have this right. The result was the 11th Circuit agreed (in 2006) and allowed the practice to continue, as it does to this day.”
Marietta attorney Fred Bentley Jr. was hired to create the county attorney’s office in 1990. Before that, all the work was done by five law firms, he said.
“I told them I would be there two years and I would set it up and then I was going to go back out to regular practice,” Bentley said. “So I left the firm here and went up and hired five original people, so we had a staff of five attorneys. … We did the work originally for a pretty effective overall cost, and I’m talking about including all costs in terms of renting space and everything. We lowered the fees from about $1 million dollars from the first year from the outside.”
After Bentley served for two years in the spot, he went back to private practice and was replaced by Bishop. Bentley continues to handle work for the county on special litigation items, such as zoning matters.
“It’s an incredible feat for someone to have served that long,” Bentley said. “The average tenure that you’d probably find in the metropolitan area might be six to eight years. For her to serve 19 is impressive.”
Bentley, who called Bishop “the dean of all county attorneys,” said she is viewed with great respect.
“She had a wonderful style,” he said. “She was not someone who was openly confrontational, but she defended the board in an appropriate fashion. … Cobb hasn’t had a lot of the issues and problems that a lot of other jurisdictions have had.”