Some personal observations about Chairman Mike Boyce

Mike Boyce -- in article about Cobb FY20 budgetCobb County Chairman Michael Boyce -- (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

[This is a From the Editor opinion column by Editor and Publisher Larry Felton Johnson]

I’m not an obituary writer, and would probably commit editorial faux pax and mishaps if I tried to do it, but I can’t let the death of former Cobb County Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Boyce pass without a few personal comments.

First of all, I really liked Boyce. I’m an informal and off-the-cuff sort of person, which often requires me to really be careful with my words so that I don’t cause a public official I interview to clam up immediately.

Not with Boyce. He’d field any question I threw at him, and seldom get defensive or show anger at the question.

Secondly, he showed no signs that I could tell of sorting people into political parties on first impression. In my experience, he treated everyone with dignity and respect. I know that’s often written in commemoration, but in the case of Boyce, I observed it to be consistently true.

Our partisan political inclinations were very different. We are of roughly similar age, and he had probably been a Republican for the same length of time as I’ve been a Democrat, which is to say an overwhelming majority of our lives. But I liked interacting with him, and he did a lot of things I admired.

I first had a conversation with Boyce after his win in the GOP primary of 2016, but before he ran unopposed in the general election and took office. He was at the dedication of an interpretive sign for the Turner Sewell Cemetery, sponsored by the River Line Historic Area (RLHA). Roberta Cook, the RLHA leader, told me that Boyce had spent an afternoon helping the organization scrub down bricks from a pre-Civil War house that had recently been demolished.

I called him Chairman Boyce, and he said “Not yet. I’m still presumptive chairman.”

Chairman Boyce was one of the most accessible public officials I’ve ever regularly dealt with. He’d always return emails and phone calls, and would only on rare occasions express irritation at a question.

As someone who has had a lot of official doors slammed in my face by thin-skinned political figures and dysfunctional organizations, I can tell you with certainty that the ability of an official to listen to a question, think about it, and respond with a non-cookie-cutter answer is a great gift to the public.

Chairman Boyce is also someone who could be joked around with informally.

He was like me in one respect, of the age where if a camera caught us in just the wrong direction, frightening photos could result. At a town hall meeting prior to a millage rate increase, I took a photo of him that met just that condition. He was tired after fielding questions in a hot, packed room and was starting to show it.

The photo looked like his face was melting.

At the next meeting of the Board of Commissioners I was sitting at the press table facing the BOC platform. I pulled that photo up, fullscreen, on my laptop, and when he passed by me on a break, I said “Hey, Chairman Boyce.”

I spun the photo around at him and said, “If you don’t answer all my questions fully, I’m going to run this as the feature image on every article that mentions you.”

He got a big kick out of it.

But the most important thing of all, is that when the renters in a series of rundown apartments on Riverside Parkway were in conflict with the landlords who owned three of the complexes, he was down there at every community meeting called by We Thrive in Riverside Renters Association, met repeatedly with the landlords on behalf of the tenants, and put the county’s resources behind the tenants’ concerns.

He had little electoral reason to do that. South Cobb is an intractably Democratic stronghold, and as a Republican, he was unlikely to ever win more than a handful of votes. His time would have been better spent in a political sense doing projects that would get out the vote in East Cobb.

But he did it because as BOC chairman he felt it was his responsibility to do it.