Transit and district map confusion taken up at Cobb Commission District 2 forum

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By Caleb Groves

From the jump, candidates for Cobb’s District 2 Commissioner voiced their opinions on redistricting and pressing issues across the county on Monday May 6, 2024.

Right out of the gate, former state legislator, education leader and consultant Alisha Searcy dove into questions regarding redistricting and the home rule controversy as the moderator at Monday’s Grace City Church forum.

Erick Allen (photo by Caleb Groves)

The battle between the county and state district maps

Following the 2020 census, state legislators redrew district maps in Cobb without collaborating with the county before being signed into law in 2022 by Gov. Brian Kemp. Afterward, the Cobb Commissioners decided to draw their own map under the Home Rule provision in the state constitution.

The state map draws District 2 Commissioner Jerica Richardson out of the district, while the home rule map keeps her in.

All five candidates emphasized the confusion caused by the opposing maps. Yet, the candidates differed about about how the issue should be resolved.

Consultant and former state legislator Erick Allen, a Democrat, during his time in the Gold Dome drew the disputed map and said, “We may not like the way it was done, but that is the responsibility of the legislature to draw those maps.”

Limited on what he could share, considering he may be a witness if the dispute goes to trial, he said, “Commissioner Richardson still was targeted. I was in the room. I know what they were doing.”

“It’s a very, very complicated issue, but home rule is creating chaos, not solving the clarity problem that we need,” Allen said.

Republican candidate Pamela Reardon, a retired real estate agent, said Richardson should stay in office to finish her term and although the map the county drew is “fairer,” it is not constitutional.

“The home rule map, in the end, is unconstitutional,” she said. “So, I’m a person who follows the rule of law. And if this county doesn’t do that, then we’re in trouble as a county and as a state.”

Democrat Kevin Redmon, a cyber security specialist, said he stood up for Commissioner Jerica Richardson when the maps changed in the middle of her term.

“I’ve attended every county meeting and court hearing regarding this matter,” he said. “And I saw how everybody in the county worked hard, as hard as they could throughout this entire process. And I, of course, was not part of the county’s legal review of this matter, but I trust that they proceeded the way that they could based on the legal advice that they got.”

“Typically, local governments have the opportunity draft their district or the county and that process did not happen this time,” executive assistant at an injury law firm, Taniesha Whorton, a Democrat, said.

“I believe that it was the right thing to do in this place, to force our legislation to kind of stop and think about the decisions that they make regarding our county and our citizens of the county,” she said.

Similarly, pediatric dentist Jaha Howard, a Democrat, said Cobb should be the one to make decisions whenever possible, but it all comes down to the judges.

“When the judges decide, they decide and we will move forward,” Howard said. “The losers here are the citizens, the confusion that it creates, the groups of pockets of east Cobb’s that are going to go long periods of time about being able to vote for a commissioner.”

Jaha Howard looks on as Pamela Reardon speaks (photo by Caleb Groves)

Cobb’s transit system

All four Democratic candidates support the idea of expanding public transit in Cobb. However, not everyone agrees on how.

Allen, Redmon and Whorton see transit mobility for jobs as a key issue in Cobb. Both see it as a way to grant people access to more jobs and businesses to larger pools of employees.

Alisha Searcy, Kevin Redmon and Taniesha Whorton (photo by Caleb Groves)

“I support the idea of the SPLOST, but we have serious, serious work to do to better educate our communities so that it builds trust,” Howard said. “And to make sure that the projects are targeted, are specific, are clear.”

“Having the mobility SPLOST is definitely a need for our county,” Whorton said.

Whether it is a family with one car or simply going to a Braves game, Whorton said it would benefit both the people and “help our economic development of the county.

However, Reardon said the 30-year sales tax is not the solution for public transit in Cobb.

“We would get stuck for the next three years in something that we can fix faster,” she said. “So no to the 30-year tax.”

She said adding two dedicated bus lanes would only worsen mobility in Cobb by taking away lane space in the county.

The candidates voiced their other key issues they plan to take on if elected.

Aside from transit, Redmon said he wants to focus on veteran support and healthcare for Cobb’s aging population and equity.

For Whorton, community engagement with residents is essential, going beyond the board.

“It’s just the five individuals on that board,” she said. “But when we engage our residents, when we empower our residents, when we equip our residents, they’re able to be more effective and more impactful in their areas than just us alone.”

Equity, infrastructure, “attainable housing” and the environment are key issues success, Allen said.

“As we grow and continue to grow in District 2, we need to have a lot of infrastructure and equity,” he said. “We need to have health infrastructure and health equity.”

“We have to get our spending under control so that we can serve the community better,” Reardon said. “…you’re due for another increase in taxes because I really don’t think the makeup and the way they’ve been going with this commission is going to stop raising the taxes.”

Polls are open for early voting for the May 21 primary and end on May 17, 2024.

Caleb Groves is a Journalism student at Kennesaw State University, where he is a junior.

Originally from Minnesota, Caleb moved to Georgia with his family, where he now lives in Woodstock with his Father, Stepmom and numerous pets.

When he is not in writing, in class or coaching rock climbing, he spends his time listening to music and rock climbing both indoors and out