Former Commission Chair Bill Byrne, who narrowly lost a hard-fought runoff last summer against Tim Lee for his old job, is expected to run next summer against Northwest Commissioner Helen Goreham. And a feisty email skirmish this week between the two shows both already have their claws sharpened.
Byrne initiated the exchange with a broadside at Goreham on Wednesday, copying it to Around Town and attacking the commission’s controversial decision Tuesday to transfer $17.2 million from the Water Fund to the General Fund to help cover county services provided in the $817 million budget approved that day for FY14.
“By doing so, the Commissioners are acknowledging the budget has a $17 million budget ‘shortfall’ and to balance the budget, by law, they are transferring funds from the Water System. The Commissioners’ proposed spending does not match their revenues and they are hiding behind this transfer of funds,” he charged.
“In January 2014, the Water System will be back to propose an increase of 3 percent, or more, in their water fees to replace the funds lost. I expect this from Tim Lee but not the District Commissioners, especially Commissioner Helen Goreham.
“When this issue was presented to her, she commented; ‘It’s one thing to take a position and it’s another to come up with solutions.’ When was the last time Commissioner Goreham came up with a solution, to any problem, on her own? Her track record over the last five years is to support every spending increase, water fee increase, a 16 percent property tax increase and every water fund transfer during her tenure. West Cobb residents deserve better.
“Cobb deserves better and it is up to the voters, on May 20, 2014, to send that message and solve that problem!!!” he added.
GOREHAM FIRED BACK Thursday morning with a terse email copied to the other four commissioners.
“Bill,” she wrote, “Thanks for admitting that you created the transfer. Now, we are the ones that need to clean up this mess. What did you do during your tenure to stop this practice? Bedminster certainly didn’t help.”
Eight minutes later, apparently having just noticed that Byrne had titled his original email “THE REAL STORY,” she added, “Oops, I thought by reading the title to your article that you were finally admitting to your action as Chairman of the BOC, when you created the transfer of fund(s) to the water system.”
ONE OF THE MOST controversial episodes of Byrne’s contentious decade as chair (1992-02) came in 1995 when he persuaded the commission to sink almost $26 million into construction of what was advertised as a state-of-the-art composting plant on County Services Parkway, to be operated by the Bedminster Bioconversion Corp. of Newton, Mass. But the plant did not work as advertised and drew heavy flack from nearby subdivisions for the stench it spewed, complaints that Byrne initially tried to brush off even as residents complained to the MDJ that they could smell the plant with their windows closed and air conditioning on.
Byrne got so angry at the MDJ’s coverage that he decreed that no county employees other than himself and County Manager David Hankerson could talk to its reporters without permission. The plant burned twice and eventually was taken over by the county in 1999 and re-engineered. It was sold as a cost-saving measure during the Sam Olens administration in 2009.
BYRNE IGNORED the Bedminster barb in his reply to Goreham on Thursday afternoon.
“Helen: Nice try, it just doesn’t work!!!,” he answered. “I cut taxes for ten straight years and earned Cobb County a triple ‘AAA’ credit rating. I privatized the SPLOST program and built the East-West Connector, Johnson Ferry Road, Atlanta Road and millions of dollars of new roads projects, under budget and ahead of schedule, all across Cobb. I also built the Cobb State Court building, with budget surplus funds (cash) and created the Public Safety Department that built two new police facilities and upgraded 27 fire stations, with budget surplus funds (cash). … That’s just for starters!!! Do you need more? What in the world have you accomplished other than become Tim Lee’s second vote???”
Ended Byrne, “I look forward to future public conversations.”
REPLIED GOREHAM an hour later, “Nice try Bill. Why didn’t you get rid of the transfer if you had all of these surplus funds? Why did I inherit the solid waste fund debt, the water transfer and the over-crowded roads from your that a rezoning should be for the highest and best use (most density in your case). (I) look forward to debating you. That is, if your county of residence is Cobb and not Polk County.”
SHOT BACK BYRNE, “Helen: I do not advocate to get rid of the transfer concept, only the approval of water fee increases six months later. The concept is a good concept, but it is your responsibility to inform the public that this is a back-door tax increase in January, when the water system comes before the BOC for a fee increase.
“My philosophy concerning zonings has never been ‘highest and best use,’ however, I always focused on the zoning application conforming to the Land Use Plan.
“Give it up Helen, you’re in over your head with your unfounded allegations. You sound a lot like Tim Lee!!!”
BOND VOTE: U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) dropped by the MDJ on Friday and while here told Around Town that he’s strongly supportive of Mayor Thunder Tumlin’s $68 million redevelopment bond for the Franklin Road corridor to be voted on in a November referendum.
He compares the proposal to Billy Payne’s vision for Centennial Park in Atlanta, Mayor Max Bacon’s vision for downtown Smyrna and legendary Cobb Commissioner Ernest Barrett’s efforts in the 1970s to put the infrastructure in place to handle the county’s growth explosion.
“When you make a bold move … you can replace crime with prosperity,” the senator said.
Isakson and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) will headline a redevelopment conference Monday in connection with the Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s EDGE program. The event will focus on Cobb’s need for redevelopment and highlight financial tools and incentives and will take place from 7:30 to 11 a.m. at the Marietta Conference Center on Powder Springs Road.
PEOPLE: Superior Court Chief Deputy Clerk Kim Carroll Hawkins turned 40 this week and the Clerk’s Office gave her a surprise breakfast party. Hawkins has been a fixture at the Courthouse, serving as Superior Court Adele Grubbs’ longtime assistant before taking office in January as deputy to Superior Court Clerk Rebecca Keaton. ... Cobb Tax Commissioner Gail Downing plans to retire at year end after 29 years with the county. She’s been tax commissioner since 2002. Her chief deputy, Carla Jackson, will serve the remainder of her unexpired term through 2016, as provided by state and local law. ... David Hale, who pitched for the Atlanta Braves Friday night, is a graduate of The Walker School and Princeton.
POLITICS: Word from the state Capitol late Friday was that Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Smyrna) had just been elected vice chairman of the House GOP Caucus replacing Matt Ramsey, who ran instead for the majority whip slot vacated by Rep. Ed Lindsey, who’s running for the 11th District congressional seat.
TEN DAYS after riding the skies over Cobb County in an open-cockpit biplane — an event that made the front page of the Aug. 30 MDJ — nonagenarian aviatrix Vilma Hofer, 97, died Monday at Freedom Pointe Roswell, an assisted-living community.
Hofer was the first woman pilot licensed to fly solo in Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II and on Aug. 29 the Wish of a Lifetime foundation fulfilled her hopes for final flight.
Susan Patterson with Freedom Pointe said the euphoria Hofer felt from the flight lasted for days.
“I saw her three days after and she was still smiling,” Patterson said.