By Rebecca Gaunt
As week one of early voting came to a close, advocates on both sides of the cityhood debates in east and west Cobb made it clear they weren’t backing down.
Nearly 9,000 in-person votes have been cast in Cobb in the first four days.
Both referendums create cities with mayors and councils that would control planning and zoning decisions, in place of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners. Cobb residents are currently able to vote for one of four district commissioners and for the board chairperson.
West Cobb Advocate representatives, who filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Lost Mountain Cityhood, have been meeting with HOAs to urge ‘no’ votes as the clock counts down to the May 24 primary election. Meanwhile, cityhood bill sponsors Rep. Ginny Ehrhart and Rep. Ed Setzler, along with other supporters, held a Zoom session in support Tuesday night.
The Rotary Club of East Cobb hosted a moderated, and sometimes heated, debate Wednesday on the proposed City of East Cobb. Informational tables were set up in the lobby with yard signs for and against available. Some attendees walked to the parking lot afterward with those signs hoisted high, minds clearly made up.
City opponent Mindy Seger of the East Cobb Alliance advocated change at the county level by suggesting a push for the expansion of the Cobb Board of Commissioners or voting out those who weren’t meeting expectations.
“We’ve been successful for decades without this avenue of government. The reality is that this proposal will increase your cost via taxes, fees and fines. That’s how cities are funded,” she said.
Craig Chapin, a member of the pro-cityhood committee, told the audience, “Contrast what Cobb County is on the record for–their vision and where they’re headed…you don’t vote for 60% of the people who make the decisions in a county that is, from my perspective, proposing out of control spending.”
Adding fuel to the fire this week, an encoding error that led to some voters receiving incomplete ballots Monday.
Some ballots were missing the cityhood referendum questions for East Cobb and Lost Mountain. Opponents and proponents of both immediately took to social media to warn people to check their ballots carefully.
Janine Eveler, director of Cobb elections, told the Courier Monday, “After gathering more information, we learned that the SOS [secretary of state] had not provided our latest database to the Poll Pad vendor; therefore the Poll Pad was creating the wrong ballot card for some precincts, based on an earlier version of the database.”
A workaround was put in place and the issue was resolved Monday, according to Eveler.
In a February letter to Jimmy Gisi, deputy county manager, Eveler wrote that she was concerned about the Cobb elections office meeting the secretary of state’s Feb. 18 deadline to complete redistricting. In addition, there was a special election for House District 45, taking place under the old district lines.
She requested the cityhood referendums, which also required special ballots within the proposed city boundaries, not take place until November. Despite the severe staffing turnover she cited in the letter, her request was not granted.
Frustration in east Cobb was evident on stage between the two parties, with ongoing arguments about finances and details of the feasibility study.
“We’re gonna fund the city by pulling over people and giving tickets.That’s gonna raise a lot of money. It’s just a joke,” Chapin said sarcastically of East Cobb Alliance’s criticisms.
He also told the audience to not “buy for one second this argument that comes with this progressive mindset that if you don’t like what you have you can just replace your one person and it all will be good.”
In her closing comments, Seger responded, “When it comes to our elected officials, we can vote them out. I wasn’t aware that was a progressive-only thing. I thought we all did that. Did I miss something?”
In west Cobb, the barbs were traded in email and on social media.
Dora Locklear, cityhood opponent and chair of West Cobb Advocate was quoted in another local paper regarding the first day ballot issues. Preserve West Cobb, the organization in support of the City of Lost Mountain, quickly sent out a mass email that said, “Today, one of the leaders of the anti-cityhood activists told the MDJ she didn’t care there were residents whose right to vote on cityhood was taken away.”
Locklear responded on social media, writing, “See those 3 dots right after the word ‘count’? Three dots can mean so much. Here’s what (paraphrased) went right there in what I said and the context in which I said it: The (technical) error was realized early on because we had voters who are highly educated on the referendum show up first thing Monday morning to vote and noticed the cityhood referendum missing. Because the error was found so quickly and immediately addressed, I’m not concerned that we have people whose vote didn’t count because it was caught so early. See how the same words, taken out of context by pro-city people, support the narrative that I don’t care or want to restrict your (right to) vote?”
East or west, the arguments for cityhood are similar: keep out high-density housing and control land use by electing people directly from the community. Fears of affordable housing and laundromats next door are frequently invoked. Both say it can be done without raising taxes.
On the other side: disbelief that the costs won’t be higher than expected, belief that the feasibility studies have significant holes, and accusations that developers behind the movements stand ready to profit.
While Lost Mountain only plans to take over planning and zoning, parks and recreation, code enforcement with municipal court, and sanitation services, East Cobb is taking those on (minus sanitation) along with police and fire services.
“Cobb County Fire is top notch, world class at the top 1% of what they do. How do you improve that?” Seger said. “We are already projecting that response times for some of the areas, particularly on that western border of the city could have response times increase anywhere from eight to 10 minutes.”
Craig responded, “Ultimately you keep hearing this fear, uncertainty and doubt about all the things you don’t know…yet there’s no talk about the county, there’s no talk about the county’s direction, there’s no talk about other counties’ success that has come out of cities.”
Advance voting continues through May 20. Times and locations are available on the Cobb County elections website.
Of the almost 9,000 votes cast, 3,232 were Democratic ballots, 5,530 Republican and 133 nonpartisan.
Wednesday’s debate on East Cobb is available for streaming on the Rotary Club Facebook page.
Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.