The Courier had a conversation with Cobb County Commissioner Lisa Cupid about her campaign for chairperson of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners. Some portions of the interview were edited out for continuity and clarity.
Why are you running?
“I think it’s time for us in Cobb County … to recalibrate to ensure that we are being inclusive to all of our stakeholders here in Cobb, and ensuring that we are setting up a strong future, not just for today, but for tomorrow.
“And in my time serving on the board, it’s been my experience year after year that we tend to be looking backwards, and narrowly, at matters instead of looking at how can we make sure this has the broadest impact to everyone, and not just for today,” she said.
What would be your first-term priorities?
“We need to, speaking broadly, to change our mindset of how we do things … There are probably two larger policy matters that I see going on right now,” she said.
“How do we ensure that our resource levels are in sync with what the needs are of the county as we continue to grow, so that we are not losing our assets …? And you see that being played out in a very specific issue with pubic safety,” she said
She said, “But issues of us maintaining staff so that we can maintain high level of service to our residents has been something that we’ve been grappling with year after year.”
“And right now we’re in our 30th year of providing transit in Cobb County and we have opportunity to make our system more robust, and this year will be the first year that we will put Sunday service in place for a system that’s been operating thirty years,” she said.
“And again I just think with new leadership and a new driver in how we do things in Cobb that we can put in practices in place that we are continually thinking about how we are meeting the needs of our citizens and how we are positioning ourselves for our future.
“It’s not so much about me,” she said, “but if we were to follow the pulse of the broader public, and again, just look more broadly than I think we have in the past we will see that we just have opportunity to be more inclusive in that policy and more forward in that policy, as well as others. “
How would you reconcile the needs of different parts of the county?
“No place in Cobb is homogeneous, and I think it’s important to be responsive to the character of areas, but also the potential and interests of those areas,” she said.
“So I don’t see it being a one size fits all,” she said, “and that’s the purpose of the steps that we’re taking with our comprehensive transportation plan going out and polling residents, having several stakeholder meetings to find out what are the interests of citizens across the county, and what our project lists look like for Cobb County for the next five, ten, twenty years.”
“So the plan provides us opportunity to recalibrate, hear perspectives, and make sure we’re fine-tuning that plan,” she said. “I think it is not likely that we’ll ever just have a one size fits all for how we address transportation in getting from point A to point B here in Cobb County.”
“There was this desire to just create a transit district just for District 4, because those people over there wanted it,” she said. “But to me, that’s very limiting to the opportunity for them to have access to opportunities whether it be through work or recreation throughout the rest of the county. So when you lock transit in it not only keeps people out, but it keeps people just limited to an area.”
“Transit is really about the access. How do you provide people opportunities to get to different places,” she said.
“How can we move people into different places? Then we look at maybe more options. And not everything has to be as permanent. I look at something like flex bus, which is not a fixed route. But people have access and opportunity by calling this on-demand number where this is not this fixed rail, it’s not even this fixed bus line.”
“So I don’t know what all the answers are for transit, and transportation, certainly there are going to be a lot of ideas that look at the car,” she said, “But I think we should look at how do people have access in different points of the county.”
“And they include non-traditional areas,” she said. “Coincidentally with that, (at) Georgia State (University), speaking to some of their policy students one year, … there was a student who was from East Cobb who commuted from home and who was very upset that he had to move on campus because he found the commute almost impossible and he couldn’t understand why Cobb wasn’t open enough to provide transit in that part of the county. And I just don’t think that he’s a sole voice with respect to transit in that part of the county.”
“It makes me think, look at our pedestrian deserts. Who has access to safe paths from one point to another, based off of where you live in the county? Should it only be where you have highly amenitized and commercial areas? Or somebody who lives in a residential community? Should they have the ability to go from point A to point B by foot? And should it be only in those new places where we require a developer, or should everyone not have that right to be able to safely get from point A to point B?”
“These are all things that are part of this discussion on mobility. And I think looking at it through the lens of it being a desert, I think provides a framework that allows us to see more of an imperative for areas where people may be locked out,” she said
How would you address the transportation needs of seniors?
“When we contemplated putting the flex bus system in place, it was important for us to look at some of our facilities for seniors (who) did not have access to transit because some of them don’t drive, or have limited driving ability where they may not drive at night,” she said.
“So we have some senior facilities where seniors are reaching out to us and telling us that they needed help getting to different places, and sometimes their options were limited. Our existing lift and mobility service is only three fourths of a mile outside a fixed route. So that was a consideration when we determined where to put those flex zones.”
“Where can (transit) help economic development, support it, boost it? I haven’t really heard much (of) this conversation looking at it from a senior perspective, of how they can get around, or from a youth perspective. A lot of our young people are not driving as readily and they still desire access to work or other amenities in Cobb County,” she said.
You’ve mentioned in BOC discussions of pay and benefits for public safety employees that other county employees should be considered, too. Could you comment on that?
“The appreciation that I think most of us have regarding their work and the vulnerabilities that they face in their line of work that are distinct to any other type of work, but I weigh that in reflection of what my first priority is as a commissioner and it is to serve the public,” she said.
“And so even when we look at public safety, public safety doesn’t happen in this space on itself. It happens in the context of serving the public … So let’s look at it. What is public safety? Is public safety just the men and women who serve or is public safety how we keep that community safe?”
She said, “So when I look at it in that larger context, that to me drives this discussion. Is it important to support public safety? Yes. Because that is how they keep our public safe. Is it important to support other services in Cobb County? Yes, because that is how they best serve the public.”
“Everything to me is in context of the public. Even if you look at public safety, and looking at their unique role, what make the community safe so the public safety officers can serve as safely as they can, that means looking at other aspects of a community.”
“How is that community developed? Does it have a strong economic base, where there are not threats for people to look at illegal way of surviving? Are there recreational assets? Are there educational assets such that young people have the ability to grow, and to recreate themselves through opportunities that will make them productive?”
“That keeps the men and women in public safety safe so that they can help keep our public safe. But that also helps keep our public safe because they’re putting less of a burden on public safety. To me I look at everything … when I look at the public … everything to me has its place in that discussion. So that’s one element of it,” she said.
“Another thing is if we just look at public safety by itself, public safety still is not an island. Yes there’s a community context, but there also the supportive agencies to public safety.”
“Public safety depends on our fleet management to be able to provide vehicles and make sure that they’re equipped. So are they supported in such a way to be able to serve public safety?”
“Fleet management also doesn’t just help equip those vehicles, but they also are maintaining their vehicles. So are they resourced in such a way where they can maintain those vehicles and their certifications to be able to do such?”
“Information services … they are responsible for making sure that the information systems that support public safety are in place. It could be the equipment that’s on that vehicle. It could be how steps are being used to be able to provide feedback to public safety. ”
“All of that is important … and body cameras, and how information is uploaded or downloaded, that all comes through information services. So are they staffed in such a way to support (public safety)?”
“Then you can look at our other departments that support the things in the community. Are they properly resourced to do what they need to do to help maintain a viable community because if they aren’t they’re adding burden to public safety,” she said.
“How are public safety facilities being taken care of? There was a complaint about police officers not having a gate that works to secure their vehicles and sometimes their vehicles being compromised. That’s not taking care of our public safety officers.”
“There are so many people that support public safety, and so many aspects that support public safety of the community overall, I think we just limit ourselves significantly when we only look at it just being driven by those who are sworn officers.”
“It includes fire, it includes 911 personnel. So even if you take care of your sworn officers, but your 911 department isn’t well supported to be able to take in those calls, to get police dispatched to where they need to be, then that mechanism falls apart,” she said.
“There’s just so many things that are interrelated that it’s very limiting to our county to just look at public safety by just sworn officer personnel. But I think a very strong litmus test of how strong your government agency is is by how well-supported public safety is.”
“My comments are not to take anything away from the discussion that we’re having about those that serve in sworn roles within the agency, but I just think we are not doing ourselves service if we’re not looking at this from an entire community context, and from a supportive agency context,” she said.
Do you have thoughts on the cityhood movements in East and South Cobb?
“Of course I have thoughts,” she said. “They weigh into my thoughts even as a commissioner. My duty is to the county. But the county consists of people in communities. And there are reasons why people in those communities are looking at becoming cities. My knowledge and sensitivity is greater in the district where I serve, but as a commissioner serving on that board, there’s some sensitivity also to what’s going on in East Cobb. “
“So I’ll talk about District 4 first. I think this inability for Cobb to embrace the success of the whole … include the whole to have pride in the whole of Cobb County has resulted in significant areas in the county thinking that it can do better with its own governance,” she said.
“So, I would be remiss to say that the county has no bearing on that. The county, in a sense, drove that by levels of service. And even looking at things from an infrastructure, development and investment perspective, how an area could become so distinctly offset from the positive character generally associated with Cobb. Either it was done by action or inaction of the county,” she said.
“I think the formation of East Cobb is something different,” she said. “I don’t think that they have had the challenges of being limited in character to what the expectations are of the positive expectation in Cobb. In fact, they assume the positive character that everyone thinks of Cobb. And it’s interesting to me that some of the arguments I’m hearing for East Cobb, although I find it distinct to South Cobb, are based in this notion of equity.”
“So I’m hearing in the South Cobb communications, ‘We don’t feel like we’ve been equitably served in this county’. and I’m hearing in the communication in East Cobb, that ‘given the amount of investment that we provide to the county that we don’t think we’re getting our equitable return’.”
“I think it’s just important again for Cobb to be mindful as Cobb tries to create a positive space as a whole, making sure that it’s responsive to every area of Cobb County and I think sometimes it gets lost in our communication about just the very unique character of different parts of the county. Outside of even just land use and zoning.” she said.
“But how do our policy practices overall recognize that they could have disparate impact on different areas of the county. And what is our goal for the county? Is it to allow those disparities to exist? Or maybe to allow a unique character that’s still positive for that area to continue to exist,” she said.
Reconciling the past with the present
“When people say have their past respected, most people want to have the positive elements of their past respected. So there is some past that people don’t necessarily want memorialized, for instance the disparity in South Cobb which has existed, that’s not a past people want to hold onto. Right?”
“If it’s maybe their diversity, or their community engagement, those are things that I think are positive.”
“For West Cobb you can see their character as more affluent, but also a very strong residential environment that has more of a rural character than any other area of the county, that I don’t think is desiring to become more commercialized. I think their amenities are really to fit into the sense of residential place that prior commissioners have worked very hard to preserve in that area.”
“If you look in East Cobb, certainly known as a very affluent, strongly developed residential community. it’s (a) very strong commercial environment.”
“If you look at the Cumberland area, (an) urbanized, modern, forward area, almost city-like.”
“If you look at South Cobb, maybe urbanized, but more so for its commercial development … maybe for its diversity, for its density, but also for some other aspects of it, (like) its crime.”
“They are distinct characters, but what about these areas should be preserved?”
“And one thing that we did in our past comprehensive plan, at least I advocated it for District 4, is for there to be unique plans or initiatives for each area, recognizing that individual character,” she said.
“It didn’t start off that way,” she said, “but there were some things that I was pushing for to be considered by the county as a whole. And where staff said, ‘Whoa, that may not be in the interest of the entire county, but we certainly know that’s an interest in that area. So why don’t we go ahead and put in this addendum, this appendix for this area’.”
“I think things like that, things that look at planning as a whole, but things that look at planning on a sub-macro level, not looking as a whole, but maybe district level, and then doing what we do in a comprehensive plan level. We sometimes look at things at a micro level. We’ll look at individual policy statements or smaller community within each district.”
“And then also understand each other’s vision for their areas, too, as we’re moving forward. so that as we’re putting together policies, that we are mindful of what’s desired in each area.
“For instance, I don’t necessarily see rail going down Whitlock, down Dallas Highway. Could they have transit access, though? Perhaps as a flex, or on-demand system? It possibly can. It fits in the characteristic of that area using the vehicle for transit, but it provides people with access (for those who) don’t necessarily live in an area that has dense enough development to support something like rail.”
“There are very strong attitudes about what it means to get to point A to point B in certain ways. Whether it’s walking … do people have access to bikes to do it? Should people be able to only use cars? What does a bus mean when it comes through my community? What is that saying about where I live? What is it saying if I have transit through my neighborhood? And are those attitudes, should they outweigh the opportunity to address the dependency, should they outweigh economic dependency? Are they attached to it?”
“I’m not running for chair because I think I have all the answers. And the more that I have ability to talk with people, it allows me to learn and open up my mind what the possibilities are … I’m running because I want us to be able to lead in view of what all the possibilities are for Cobb,” she said.
“I think if we are able to examine that by recognizing all the distinct characters and people of Cobb County, we are able to create something that better works for all of us. And that’s why I’m running.”
“I know I’m open to that. And I’ve been able to lead, and push some things in Cobb County that have enabled for us to be open. And it’s not always easy to be driving some difficult conversations that only happen when you’re willing to be open because sometimes it hard to be something that maybe you haven’t fully engaged in in the past.”
“But I see if we have leadership in our county that is open to all the possibilities for Cobb moving forward, that we can create a Cobb County that works for everyone and it’s not making decisions on a day-to-day basis that limit ourselves from the possibilities of our future.”
“I think from what I’ve seen as a commissioner, again, looking at our struggles right now with our budget, and looking at disparities of certain communities, and looking at the conversation that we had around rhetoric, it comes across, the attitude that somehow we have already determined what Cobb County is. And everything has to fit into what we said, or what we’ve done in the past,” she said.
“And not disrespecting the past, because I think we should be mindful of how that plays a part in the future, but also recognizing that as we grow and as we move forward, we’re evolving every day, And how do we create a framework in this county that allows up to move into that as best positioned as possible?”