Push for BRT is a roll of the dice for Lee
by Joe Kirby, Otis A. Brumby III and Lee B. Garrett, - Around Town Columnists
June 21, 2014 04:00 AM | 5617 views | 11 11 comments | 39 39 recommendations | email to a friend | print
COBB Commission Chairman Tim Lee’s embrace of a proposed BRT and his thus-far unsuccessful efforts to piggyback it onto the upcoming SPLOST referendum ballot are a big roll of the dice — not just for the county’s crucial SPLOST program, but also for his own political future.

Lee wants to include $100 million for a Bus Rapid Transit line down the Cobb Parkway corridor on the list of projects to be funded by the upcoming SPLOST. Another $300 million from other sources would be needed to complete construction of the BRT, plus untold millions more each year for operating costs.

The BRT would start in Acworth and continue south to the Midtown MARTA station. The Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax would raise an estimated $750 million over its six-year life. Voters will have their say on the SPLOST — and possibly on the BRT — in a November referendum.

The BRT seems already to be a dead issue with most of those with whom Around Town has talked. There is no enthusiasm for its heavy cost, no sense that it will do anything to relieve congestion and, as best AT can tell, no eagerness to ride it.

Nor is Lee finding it an easy sell to his fellow commissioners. To date, none of the other four are willing to agree to put the BRT on the SPLOST ballot, and he cannot do it unilaterally. Meantime, Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin is the only mayor to seem publicly enthused about the BRT.

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THE BRT is essentially a reincarnation of the “premium bus line” proposed in the TSPLOST referendum that was clobbered 70-30 by voters two years ago. And Northwest Cobb District 1 Commission candidate Bill Byrne, one of the leaders of the anti-TSPLOST movement back then, says the BRT is just as unpopular.

Speaking of “popular,” there’s no love lost between Lee and Byrne. Lee is openly backing former Acworth Councilman Bob Weatherford, who says he is undecided on whether to support the BRT, although he supports the SPLOST. Weatherford’s weaving on that question, however, has fueled talk that he is playing coy with voters but will ultimately side with Lee and the Cobb Chamber. The Chamber, rightly or wrongly, is perceived by many as pushing hard for the BRT behind the scenes. Meantime, Byrne is finding the BRT a ready-made issue with which to cudgel Lee, Weatherford and the Chamber.

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SPLOSTs and bond referendums are always controversial in Cobb County. Voters turned down an extension of the original SPLOST back in the late 1980s, then later said no to a SPLOST extension proposed in 1998 by then-Commission Chairman Byrne that included money for a monorail-type line tying Town Center and Cumberland malls. They also have rejected the original school SPLOST attempt in the mid-1990s and various other school and bond referendums through the years. They’ve said “yes” to such proposals as well — but only if the proposals were well-crafted, appeared low in “wants” (as opposed to “needs”) and were pushed by strong, widely respected leaders.

That last point is crucial. Most local officials appear on the ballot only once every four years. If voters have grown disenchanted sooner than that with their leaders, they’re apt to see a SPLOST or bond proposal as a surrogate for that unpopular leader — and vote against it to “send a message.”

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LEE’S popularity has waxed and waned during his tenure. He’s enjoyed a rare spurt of enthusiasm from the public since the announcement last fall that the Atlanta Braves were moving here. Yet opponents of the move have done an effective job of making it appear he was heavy-handed in the process and the move lacked transparency. He also was widely criticized after refusing to bend the commission’s “public comment” guidelines to allow critics of the move to speak at a meeting last month after supporters got there early and snapped up all the allotted slots.

And by pushing the BRT so hard, Lee risks eroding the residual popularity he built up from the Braves’ move, which will be ancient history to voters by November. He’s not due to be on the ballot himself again until 2016, so he apparently feels he has time to get back in voters’ good graces regardless of what happens to the SPLOST and BRT. But don’t be surprised to see an effort by some to portray the SPLOST (with or without the BRT) as a de facto referendum on Lee — and even the Braves move — as well.

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COMING UP: Marietta author Russell Bonds will give a talk on his book, “Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase,” at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Marietta Art Museum, said director Sally Macaulay. The talk is meant as a tie-in to the current exhibit of paintings about the chase and other Civil War/Southern themes by the late Wilbur G. Kurtz that runs through July 3. ...

The Science Channel show “How It’s Made” will focus on The Brumby Chair company and the process by which its rockers are assembled at 9 p.m. Thursday.

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FORMER state GOP Chairwoman Sue Everhart of east Cobb has endorsed Jack Kingston in the runoff race for U.S. Senate.

“Jack Kingston has been in the trenches with Georgia Republicans for over three decades fighting for the causes you and I believe in,” she said. “He is one of us, a lifelong Georgia Republican with a proven conservative record of service.”

THE JULY 8 CANDIDATE FORUM co-sponsored by The Acworth Business Association and the Cobb Chamber of Commerce is more than two weeks away, but the sniping is already well under way between District 1 Cobb Commission candidates Bill Byrne and Bob Weatherford.

“I will debate him anytime, anywhere and under any circumstances,” Byrne told AT this week. “He is John Loud’s candidate, and I would think Loud is getting tired of seeing Weatherford get his ass kicked. But if he wants to go into Acworth and do that, I’ll be more than happy to oblige.”

Loud is owner of Loud Security and is managing Weatherford’s campaign. Loud has become somewhat of a controversial figure as of late thanks to his high-profile role boosting the Atlanta Braves’ move to Cobb.

Byrne and Weatherford will meet in the July 22 GOP Primary runoff for the District 1 seat.

Weatherford told AT that Byrne’s comments were “typical Byrne. He also said I would be last in the election, and that didn’t prove right either. So you have to take what he says with a grain of salt.”

“I don’t use profanity and I don’t believe my butt’s been kicked. He came up off his stool at the last debate and waggled the mike at me because I reiterated some of the ridiculous statements he’s made through the years about the BRT. He says he’s not for it. I said, ‘You were for it before you were against it because you proposed a monorail from Town Center to Cumberland Mall when you were commission chairman.’ He said he wanted people to have ‘the Disneyworld experience.’ He didn’t like that.”

Byrne also told AT that as long as the talk is about issues, Weatherford “doesn’t have a prayer, because he’s on the wrong side of them from a voter’s perspective.”

Answers Weatherford, “Unlike Mr. Byrne, I don’t say ‘no’ to everything. I do my research before I comment about things and thus far I’m on the right side of all the issues the people want.”

Byrne opposes the BRT and Weatherford is on the fence about it.

About the only thing the two seem to agree on is that Weatherford, in fact, is “John Loud’s candidate,” as Byrne put it.

“Loud is my campaign manager. Of course I’m his candidate,” Weatherford said.

Loud has strong ties to the event’s co-sponsor, the Cobb Chamber, and Byrne has tried to portray Weatherford as the Chamber’s candidate. Byrne even said last month he would boycott all Chamber events if he gets elected due to the heavy influx of campaign donations to Weatherford from Chamber brass.

Which in turn prompted this crack on Friday from Weatherford: “I wonder if he’s even going to show up at the forum since he said he wouldn’t take part in any event sponsored by the Chamber. Maybe there’ll just be an empty chair. If he’s there, I’ll ask him why he’s supporting a chamber-sponsored event.”

Added Weatherford, “I plan to send him back to his Polk County horse farm on July 22. And you can put that on the record if you like.”

Done.

Comments
(11)
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Just Sayin'....
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June 22, 2014
I think Mr. Loud and "his" candidate underestimate the anti-chamber sentiment in West Cobb. While Mr. Byrne might not be the ideal choice, many people see him as the only choice. Of course, Mr. Weatherford is doing what he is told, Mr. Loud is busy posing for pictures in his Braves shirt and courting business, all while the Chamber is busy trying to get Tim Lee to fund a bus line into Midtown that few, if any, Cobb residents will actually use. This is all going to help the people in this district how????
anonymous
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June 21, 2014
RE: Bryne said...“He is John Loud’s candidate, and I would think Loud is getting tired of seeing Weatherford get his ass kicked. But if he wants to go into Acworth and do that, I’ll be more than happy to oblige.”--

Gosh, there is something so nice about hearing a politico so clearly and bluntly speak his mind.

Frankly, Cobb County desperately needs someone on the commission who is not afraid to do a little "ass" kickin'.

Macon's Cinest
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June 23, 2014
The same guy who stated no gay Olympians were allowed in Cobb County in the 90's? I'll vote for the next deer struck by a car before him.
Lookin On
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June 21, 2014
As a life long resident of Cobb and its politics, here are my observations:

It is pitiful that the choices District 1 residents are left with are Byrne and Weatherford. Byrne is a loose cannon and Weatherford is a candidate who is for the business community before he is for Cobb residents.

By John Loud a businessman, letting his opinions be known by supporting the Braves move and being Weatherford's campaign manager, he evidently doesn't adhere to the theory of trying to remain neutral so as not to eliminate any potential customers of his business.

Last with the crisis in Iraq and the proposed 12 cent federal tax increase, it should be evident that the ATL metro region cannot keep adding lanes and putting cars on the road. And folks, OPEC determines the amount of petroleum on the market, not Obama or Mitt Romney. We need plans and solutions to start soon, BUT the trouble is those so called solutions keep coming from politicians, who only want to be reelected and big business honchos, both of which only care about money and not about the residents. *Hint to Lee- I voted against the last TSPLOST and I want solutions, NOT money routes for the Chamber and the City of ATL.
A simple Question
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June 23, 2014
When did the Cobb business community stop being cobb citizens? We are all in this thing together and as soon as people stop separating out folks into groups and look at everyone as individuals with a voice and a vote, we are lost. Citizens in Cobb who pay their home taxes and also operate a business in Cobb have just as much rights as anyone else. Having a thriving business environment helps to make the tax burden lower for the individual homeowner. That is just common sense. Stop beating up business.
Just Sayin'....
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June 23, 2014
RE: A Simple Question: No one is beating up the business community as a collective group. What people are tired of is a group of un-elected individuals all associated with the Cobb Chamber who are of the mindset that their way is the only right way for Cobb County to proceed. It is one thing for Tim Lee, or Bob Ott, or Helen Goreham to sound off because they were elected to sound off...like it or not. The kind people at the Chamber have not been elected to represent me or you. Therein lies the difference. Yes, they are entitled to their opinions, just as any of us are, but they are not entitled to try to squelch the debate on important issues, nor are they ever going to see things through a lens that is anything but profit driven.

If they, the Chamber, really want to be a player in this particular district, perhaps they might want to look beyond their "Platinum Triangle" and tidy East Cobb subdivisions. Where have they been on infrastructure needs in West Cobb? Where have they been on redevelopment needs in West Cobb? Where have they been on fundraising for our school district? Where have they been on recruiting business outside of the Cumberland Improvement District and a few other select locations on the eastern side of I-75? In short, it appears as if they are uninterested unless it lines their pockets in some way.

Just Sayin'....
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June 23, 2014
re: Lookin On,

The above mentioned businessman has said publicly that he does business with Cobb County now, so perhaps he is not all that worried about alienating customers.
A Simple Question
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June 24, 2014
@ Just Sayin'...: you have obviously developed a set of talking points that in no way resemble the facts at all. It has been my experience that the Cobb Chamber, the Cobb Business Associations and the Cobb business community at large are very focused on the entire county and its six cities. They have a holistic view and work to make ALL of cobb a thriving business environment. As far as fundraising for the school effort, I believe the Cobb chamber and members of the business community have been either the leaders of or part of the Education SPLOST efforts. I believe the Chamber leads and the business associations participate in the largest partners in education program in the country. Profit is the motivation for all business and no one should apologize for that at all. Those profits pay taxes, fund non-profit activities, support local community efforts, buy advertising for little league teams, etc., etc. These people are just trying to do their part to make Cobb a better place, to try and make them into some sort of shadowy cabal is beyond the pail and way off base.
Just Sayin'....
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June 24, 2014
RE: Simple Question: I would ask why the Chamber has remained silent on the political debate over the flaws in the equalization issues that last year funneled over 350 million Cobb tax dollars OUT of Cobb county to other school districts, including Gwinnett by the way, while we were running a deficit that was approaching 100 million dollars. Now THAT is a fight they should be vocally involved in if they really want to make all of Cobb a better place. (And before you say that is a state issue, let me point out that some of the largest supporters of the current governor, politically and financially, are members of the Cobb Chamber, and most certainly could have some influence there.) Oh yes, they can get behind SPLOST, because that means construction projects, consulting fees, etc., etc. Interestingly enough, even if only 100 million of that money stayed in Cobb it would have had a 700 million dollar positive effect on our economy. Hmmm....THAT is a fight the Chamber could be useful with.

The "holistic" approach you speak of with regards to the six cities of Cobb is an interesting take, and again, please look at specific projects or endeavors they have supported.

The Chamber is far from an evil empire, and the individual members are some of the best and brightest and most generous people that Cobb could be blessed with, but the organization...The Chamber... has let itself become a bully on the block, and perhaps the membership should look at that.

This whole give and take began with the supposition that West Cobb will vote for the candidate not being supported by the Chamber, in many cases, because the perception of the Chamber is a negative in this part of the county. And as I originally said, though Mr. Byrne is far from the perfect candidate, he will garner votes because of Mr. Weatherford's perception of being the Chamber Guy.
Kennesaw Voter.
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June 21, 2014
Simple observation,

Bob Weatherford said in the article above, " I’m on the right side of all the issues the people want.”

Bob, then explain your undying support for TSPLOST, which was rejected it by a 69% margin.

hmmmmm is it possible you meant to say; You are on the right side of the issues which Tim Lee and his small special interest group want?

Just asking....

anonymous
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June 21, 2014
Weatherford is talking like another clueless chamber back rino crony. They do not pull their heads out often enough to know what is going on around them...but that never stops them from parroting the idiot talk fed to them by their chamber of commerce masters.

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