Caroline Holko has a deep love of libraries, family, and community. The New Orleans- born transplant’s values are rooted deep in her politics through a passion for diversity, services, transit. Holko will face Republican incumbent JoAnn Birrell, who has served as the District 3 commissioner since 2011, in November.
The May 22 primary for the East Cobb district resulted in 5,767 votes for Holko and 5,634 votes for Birrell. A total of 84,284 Cobb voters casted ballots, a turnout of 17.8 percent of the 473,356 registered voters in the county.
It was the Braves Stadium and the recent closing of libraries and reduction of community services that led Holko to run for County Commissioner of District 3.
“There has been a belief there were no progressives, no liberals, and no democrats in East Cobb,” Holko said. “When you get told that over and over you start to believe it. But then, the 2017 special election happened and made people realize they aren’t alone. We are not going to be silent anymore. We’re ready to be heard and represented.”
Holko mentioned a meeting she attended at a Board of Commissioners meeting when an audience member brought up the topic of slavery, stating “Slavery couldn’t have been so bad, if it was, why didn’t they just leave the South?” Holko was appalled. She says as a community, East Cobb has to do better on the topic of diversity.
“There’s a misconception that Cobb is unwelcoming to diversity,” she said. “Diversity is already here and we really have to do better on that topic.”
Caroline Holko says SunTrust Park negatively affected community services
The influence the stadium has had on the community takes many shapes and forms, but Holko is displeased with the negative effect it has had on community services.
“Stadiums are rarely as good for communities as they paint themselves to be to local government.” “The fact that it [the stadium] was brought to us without a real opportunity to have the public lay eyes on it was very problematic and in, in my opinion, 85 percent of the reason that lost Tim Lee [former Cobb Chairman] his chair. ”
Support for libraries
She says the county should make services to the community priority, especially libraries, which hits home for Holko.
“When I was a kid, the library was my favorite place in the world,” Holko said. “Mom was a single mom and there’s no way she could have kept up with my appetite for books without the library. The love of libraries is instilled in me”
Holko says East Cobb commissioners approved higher user fees for a variety of country services. Libraries now require a $25 fee to use the community room, which several organizations use weekly, and have raised senior center membership fees to $60.
“My daughter is in girl scouts, and they have weekly meetings at the library,” she says. “My son’s gaming group had to scramble to find a new location, so did Master Gardeners, and the local book clubs. There’s a lot of things that happen in the libraries that can’t absorb a $25 fee every time they want to use a community room.”
Holko says libraries are a necessity for any community and should be protected. Residents of the community that do not have internet are able to work online from the library and the availability of books sparks interest in learning.
“Its where people go to learn new things,” she said. “There are people who struggle everywhere.”
Additionally, Cobb County was responsible for all transportation and traffic control after the building of SunTrust park. The park resulted in an increase of tourists and traffic.
“We’re just now starting to see some benefits from some of the businesses,” Holko said. “But we have to provide traffic control, the Braves do not, and that to me outweighs the benefits.”
Holko: “When I go out into the community, people tell me they want the opportunity to have transit.”
Holko supports greater transit options for Cobb citizens,and says House Bill 930 will provide oan pportunity to the community.
HB-930 was signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal in May and creates new regional authority called The ATL, which implements transit projects across 13 metro-Atlanta counties and ensures efficient connectivity among jurisdictions. It would allow Cobb to implement a one-percent sales tax to fund projects in transit.
“House Bill 930 does give Cobb the opportunity to put a referendum on the public without having to get approval,” she said. “It gives the Board of Commissioners the approval to draft the referendum already.”
Furthermore, she says transit options like Flex, which is a bus that offers door-to-door service by reservation and the flexibility of walk-up service from a collection point, is an option for residents who would rather not drive themselves.
“I think that once people started using it and knew how to use it that they would be pleased,” Holko said. “Something like this service is very nimble, not being attached to a fix route. If you don’t have anyone at the next collection point you can take detours. It’s incredibly innovative and it’s been well-received in the pilot area.”
The Georgia Department of Transportation has steadily worked on the Northwest Corridor project, which will improve travel in the I-75/I-575 by adding 29.7 miles of express lanes along I-75 from Akers Mill Road to Hickory Grove Road, and along I-575 from I-75 to Sixes Road.
“GDOT is all in on the express lane on I-75 there is opportunity to create a link between KSU an other existing transit places,” she said. “That express lane is going up quick.”
Thoughts on gun laws and gun safety
As a mother, Holko views gun laws and gun safety training as a priority.
“I would love if the Cobb County Board of Commissioners would draft something agreeing to support some reasonable gun safety laws.”
Holko refers to Fulton County Commission’s resolution to seek more restrictive gun laws that went into effect on March 7.
“I don’t know if they’re willing to go that far, but I know a lot of the parents here are willing to go that far.” she says. “Making sure that people who aren’t a risk to themselves don’t have access to high powered weapons.”
“Anything I can do to make sure my child and your child are safer is something I want to do, so I would support gun safety regulations,” Holko said. “No I don’t want to take everyone’s gun away from them, I want them to consider they live in a world with other people and we, as a society have a responsibility to each other to create a safe environment.”
Biggest differences between Holko and Incumbent Birrell
Holko says the biggest distinctions between her and Birrell are: storage units, support of Chairman Boyce’s increase in the millage rate, and availability to the community. Storage facilities are a frequently controversial topic in Cobb County’s land use and zoning decisions.
“I’m not a fan of storage units,” Holko said. “ And I do support Chairman Mike Boyce for the request of a 1.7 increase in the millage rate.”
Commissioners received Chairman Boyce’s fiscal 2019 budget proposal before Memorial Day, which recommended a 1.7-mill property tax increase to fill the projected $30 million budget gap.
Holko’s goal is to be available to the public as much as possible and to listen to her constituents on the issues.
“I will be at every single budget … town hall. I look forward to seeing what the community has to say about the budget,” she said. “In the end that’s what it comes down to. This race is not just about me, it’s about the entire community. And I’m very interested in hearing what the community has to say about the budget and what they value.”