Outgoing Southwest Cobb Commissioner Woody Thompson said Mableton has seen a lot of changes since he lived there as a boy.
“It was a working-class area,” Thompson said of the area in the mid 1950s. “They built hundreds and hundreds of three-bedroom, one-bath, bath-and-a-half homes. They were all brick, hardwood floors, built to last forever. Good construction. I live in one of them right now.”
But now, some people who live in those houses can’t maintain them. Other houses became rentals with absentee landlords, he said.
“If you turn off Mableton Parkway and go down Community Drive to where I live now, a lot of those little houses, people haven’t been able to keep them up. The roofs and the gutters are starting to sag and stuff like that,” Thompson said. “I’ve heard of some people living in basements.”
The Journal sat down with Thompson this week to talk about his time in office, his hits and misses and what he plans for the future as he steps off the board on Dec. 31.
Thompson, who turns 66 this month, moved to Mableton in 1956 at the age of 10 when his father transferred the family’s dry cleaning business from East Point. South Cobb was a fairly rural community at the time, but during the 1950s and ’60s it began to see “white flight” from northwest Atlanta, which kicked off its growth, said Thompson, who can recall his school bus driving down dirt roads in Mableton.
Thompson, a real estate agent by trade, said he sold his first house off Factory Shoals Road for $22,500.
“That’s about what it’s worth today,” he said.
Thompson said the problem is not a “black and white” issue, but a socioeconomic one.
East Cobb avoided the problem because it built upper income housing from the start, although that’s not what the market called for in the 1950s, he said.
Thompson was first elected commissioner in 1996 and served through 2004, when he was unseated by the highly controversial Annette Kesting.
Kesting’s four year-term is best known for a scandal involving a “voodoo high priestess” from South Carolina.
The “high priestess” filed a police report in Cobb County, alleging Kesting had asked her to perform a death ritual against Thompson — and written her bad checks.
“I read the police report,” Thompson said. “(Kesting) asked for prayer for her son, who I think had a drug problem. You know, I always have sympathy for someone who has that problem. For her and her husband’s finances, which was understandable since she couldn’t fix up her duplexes there in Powder Springs. And then the last thing, ‘I want you to do a hex on Woody Thompson where he’ll either die in an automobile accident or he’ll catch a disease and die.’ Everybody thought it was funny except me.”
Last he’s heard, Thompson said Kesting was living in an apartment in Hiram after losing her house.
“Like I said, she’s more to be pitied than anything else,” he said. “It’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to me in my life,”
Re-elected in 2008 after switching from Republican to Democrat, Thompson was unseated by Lisa Cupid of Austell in the Democratic primary this year.
Thompson said his advice to Cupid, “No. 1, since she lives in the Six Flags area, I think she’s going to give that a lot of attention, but remember that the district is a whole lot bigger than Six Flags,” he said.
A good commissioner is also a good listener, he said.
Reflecting on his 12 years in office, Thompson takes pride in the development of the South Cobb Recreation Center on Six Flags Drive, which opened in 2002. Since that time, the 10-acre tract has seen the Boys & Girls Club move in, along with the health department and an aquatic center.
“We used several years of (federal) funding, and it was finished while I was out of office,” Thompson said. “We put something down there that got the kids off the street.”
Thompson estimates the complex cost between $12 million and $15 million.
“We used to hear all this stuff where ‘South Cobb is the stepchild. We don’t get anything.’ I start naming off these multi-million dollar projects,” he said.
Looking back, Thompson said a likely regret is how much time his role as commissioner took away from his private life.
“You’re not going to get rich doing this job,” he said. “It pays a decent salary, but it can eat up a lot of your time too, so it’s kind of hard to balance it. To do this job, you’ve either got to be self-employed, retired, or somebody like Commissioner Ott who has a very understanding employer. You can’t do it if you have an eight-to-five job.”
Thompson said he won’t miss getting flooded with emails or receiving “some of the kook calls.”
“I can do without that,” he said.
But he will miss working with the county staff, gesturing to his assistant, Jackie Jones.
“It almost makes me tear up to think about because they get to be like family,” he said.
But like most families, there are arguments.
“I know after the redistricting this time, I fought that, and (Commissioner) JoAnn Birrell was helping me. We finally came up with a map that we could live with, but before that they were eating into South Cobb, they were getting the Mable House and putting it in (Ott’s) district,” Thompson said. “Bob got so mad he wouldn’t speak to me for four or five months. Wouldn’t speak to JoAnn. I said, ‘well, that’s too bad.’ I’d pass him in the hall and say, ‘morning, Bob.’ Then one day he just started talking again. JoAnn said, ‘I liked it better when you weren’t talking to us.’”
Commissioner Bob Ott has a different take on how the redistricting controversy played out.
“Commissioner Thompson and Commissioner Birrell went down on their own, drew a map, unbeknownst to anyone else on the board, and that is the one that they pushed through and got passed by the rest of the board, which I thought was inappropriate because the chairman had asked us to go down, the two commissioners who would go down and talk about common borders, and instead what Commissioner Birrell and Commissioner Thompson went down and drew their own map without any conversation or discussion with me and forced it through the board, so that’s what it was all about,” Ott said.
Thompson said his own style is not to take things personally.
“It’s kind of like the attorneys,” he said. “They go into court and fight each other, and then they go to lunch. You have to have a mindset for that. I got along as well with (former county chairman) Bill (Byrne) as well as you can. Some days you just can’t get along with him. He’d walk down the hall and you’d see a little dark cloud behind him. He’d come over here and try to pick a fight just for the fun of it.”
Thompson said his friend Don Wix, chairman of the Development Authority of Cobb County, said Byrne couldn’t help it because “he’s a Yankee.”
“So I started using the same terminology because I’m working with several commissioners that are Yankees,” Thompson said. “We say it in fun and laugh. I told somebody one time, I said, ‘us Southerners will usually just sit there and listen to it, and everybody has a flash point,’ and then I said, ‘when you get past that, we hit them right in the mouth and walk on down the road.’”
County Chairman Tim Lee referred to Thompson as a consensus builder.
“He likes to work with people to get stuff done to everyone’s mutual benefit,” Lee said. “I will miss him as a person, and I will miss him as a commissioner. He made a great contribution to this county, and I will miss him and hopefully keep in contact with him.”
Thompson, and his wife, Betsy have two daughters, a son who passed away, and a 2-year-old granddaughter. He plans to become more involved in his real estate business and with his granddaughter in the future.
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