East Cobbers voice mixed reactions to city idea

East Cobbers have mixed reactions to county chairman candidate Bill Byrne’s suggestion that they form their own city.

This week, Byrne suggested the Cobb Legislative Delegation could draw up boundary lines in the unincorporated eastern part of the county and then turn it over to voters who live in the district to decide whether to become Cobb’s seventh city.

Republican activist Donna Rowe of east Cobb said she would want to see what the tax structure looked like before giving it her blessing.

“For example, the city of Marietta, the city of Smyrna, the city of Roswell all have additional tax on top of the county tax, so I’d like to see what the tax structure would be,” Rowe said.

Under the proposal, the county government would continue to provide water, sewer, police and fire services to the new city for a nominal fee of one dollar per year.

“If that’s part of the proposal and that’s what passes, I’m sure that would be amiable to the people of east Cobb,” Rowe said. “You know, everyone says, ‘I’m an east Cobber.’ … They don’t identify themselves per se with being in Marietta. I know Cynthia Rozzo with the East Cobber (Magazine) has tried to do east Cobb events like the parade and all that other stuff, but there’s really no center unless you want to call Merchant’s Walk a center.

“It’s an interesting proposal that’s worth investigating. … Bill usually has very innovative ideas that citizens like, and I’m sure he would go with the will of the people.”

State Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-east Cobb) said one of the first steps required on the way to becoming a city would be to have the Carl Vinson Institute of Government study the costs involved.

“It is government closer to the people, but it is another layer of government,” Cooper said. “If citizens in my district want to explore the possibility, I’m certainly willing to help them with that and tell them all of the complicated processes that creating a city entails.”

State Sen. Judson Hill (R-east Cobb) pointed out that neither the state legislature nor the county commission creates cities. Cities are created through referendums determined by the people in that community.

Hill said he’s never heard anyone suggest creating a new city in Cobb in the seven years he’s represented most of east Cobb and a portion of Sandy Springs.

“North Fulton has created a number of new cities in the last seven or eight years, and during that time period I’ve never had anybody from east Cobb suggest that Cobb County should follow North Fulton’s lead,” Hill said.

Hill said Byrne’s proposal is worthy of consideration and should be investigated by those with experience in county and city governments.

“It is very important to understand the financial pros and cons before creating another layer of government,” he said.

Jill Flamm, president of the East Cobb Civic Association, which represents about 10,000 homeowners, said she’d have to study the proposal in depth.

“I’m an engineer by trade,” Flamm said. “If I hear an idea, I want to go research it. I don’t have a knee-jerk reaction as far as ‘no’ or ‘yes.’ I try not to.”

At the same time, “It’s always good to look at different things,” she said.

Karen Hallacy, an active east Cobb community member, called Byrne’s proposal an intriguing idea that warrants study.

“There are tax and infrastructure implications along with administrative costs and many other considerations that need to be fully understood before proceeding,” Hallacy said.

J.D. Van Brink, chairman of the Marietta-based Georgia Tea Party, said his initial reaction to creating a city of east Cobb is favorable.

“The government that’s closest to the people is the best government — you know, more responsive to the citizens,” he said. “I’m not going to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ I think I need to think about it more. I probably need to talk with Bill Byrne about it and get some more information. My initial reaction, though, is pretty favorable. My understanding is that Sandy Spring has been doing pretty well, right? This is self-government, that’s what it’s all about. If this is what the people choose, then I don’t see any problem with it.”

The two county commissioners who represent portions of east Cobb, JoAnn Birrell and Bob Ott, say they are willing to listen.

“First of all, we need to wait and see what happens (in the runoff election between Byrne and incumbent Tim Lee) and then go from there, but I wouldn’t shut the door on it,” Birrell said. “I want to hear from the constituents and see what their thoughts are. I mean, it’s fine for people in Atlanta or other parts of the county to comment, but it’s not really affecting them like the impact it would have on my constituents and Bob’s constituents.”

Retired Lockheed chief Bob Ormsby of east Cobb said he’d like to learn more about the proposal as well.

“Let’s take some time to sort this out in an intelligent way,” Ormsby said.

Others, like Attorney General Sam Olens and Georgia GOP Chair Sue Everhart, say they oppose the idea.

“I don’t want east Cobb to become a city,” Everhart said. “We are served well by Cobb County government, and I see no reason to change as long as it’s going well. I’ve never had a problem in east Cobb. East Cobb pays more taxes than anybody else, but that’s OK too.”

Larry Savage, who lost in the Republican primary race for chairman and who has now endorsed Byrne, isn’t excited about Byrne’s idea either.

“It strikes me as a solution in search of a problem,” Savage said.

That doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile to have a community conversation about it, though, he said.

“If we were to determine that we needed more local control, I think there might be some options that we would consider before going to the ultimate option of creating a city,” Savage said. “There are other places that have levels of government that are somewhat local, but not to the scale of a full-blown city. I’m thinking something in the realm of a township or a village where you can have some local management in a formal setting, but you don’t necessarily have the ability to completely uproot everything that your county government has done.”

The proposed city would be governed by an elected mayor and five City Council members, with wards drawn by the Cobb Delegation.

Byrne said the county government could provide $1 million from its capital improvements budget for the design and construction of a city hall and provide temporary meeting locations until construction is complete. The design, construction and location of the new city hall would be determined by the new mayor and city council.

“It’s a concept to begin the discussion, not to end it, and obviously the two district commissioners — Bob Ott and JoAnn Birrell — would have to buy into it or it doesn’t fly, and the Delegation would have to buy into it or they won’t create it,” Byrne said Wednesday.

(Reprinted from the Marietta Daily Journal, August 10, 2012. Written by Jon Gillooly. Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal – East Cobbers voice mixed reactions to idea about forming city)


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