Although it’s been nearly a year since East Cobb cityhood proponents put their efforts on hold, candidates seeking local and state office this fall were asked at a forum Tuesday where they stood on the issue.
Among them was the lone co-sponsor of legislation that would have called for a referendum to let voters decide the matter.
State Rep. Matt Dollar reminded an audience at an East Cobb Business Association luncheon that “there was no bill to create a city.”
He was responding to questions from ECBA members, who included people attending in person and others via Zoom.
An East Cobb Republican who’s represented District 45 since 2003, Dollar said his bill—filed near the end of the 2019 legislative session and the day after cityhood proponents first faced the public—was “the start of a two-year process, and it was worthwhile to start a conversation.”
Dollar insisted that he was “not pushing cityhood,” and while at first he supported the idea of a City of East Cobb, he said the supporters of the effort “didn’t do a good job of explaining why it would be beneficial.”
The cityhood group held two other town hall meetings and the ECBA also held a debate, but no other legislators signed on as a co-sponsor, citing negative feedback from constituents.
In Georgia, cityhood bills must have a co-sponsor in the House and the Senate. State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, also an East Cobb Republican, said that “proponents of the bill need to make their case.” She never signed on to the bill and said if there was enough public support she would back a citizens’ committee to further examine the issue but “at this point it’s a moot point.”
In early December 2019 the Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb announced it would not pursue the bill, which also included a proposed city charter and outlined maps, a city court structure and mayor and council terms, with elections as early as 2021.
The cityhood group spent tens of thousands of dollars on lobbyists, including a leading a prominent government relations firm in Georgia late last year.
State Rep. Sharon Cooper, a Republican from District 43, also didn’t co-sponsor the bill, although she asked for the required financial feasibility study that was completed in December 18 by Georgia State University researchers.
“I didn’t think there was much support,” said Cooper, who attended some of the early town halls in 2019. She said East Cobb citizens are “fat and sassy,” content with the level and quality of public services they receive, and as far as she is concerned, cityhood “now is a dead issue.”
Their Democratic opponents also stated during the forum that they strongly opposed cityhood. Christine Triebsch, an attorney who is challenging Kirkpatrick in the State Senate race, said the cityhood effort “was a colossal waste of time and energy.”
She said she was upset that as a constituent of Dollar’s she never heard anything from him about the legislation or the cityhood effort.
Sarah Tindall Ghazal, Dollar’s opponent on the Nov. 3 ballot, echoed other candidates saying a new city would create an extra layer of government and that Dollar’s bill “put the cart before the horse.”
Luisa Wakeman, who’s running against Cooper for the second election in a row, said “there’s just no support” for East Cobb cityhood.
At the ECBA forum, the two candidates for District 2 on the Cobb Board of Commissioners also said they opposed East Cobb cityhood.
Republican Fitz Johnson said he has been adamantly opposed to cityhood all along, but noted that it’s the legislature, not county elected officials, who would put a referendum before the public.
Democrat Jerica Richardson said she’s read the financial feasibility study and concluded there’s “no sustainable economic base” for a city that would be heavily residential and questioned the report’s assumptions.
“The community was not behind it,” she said.
The proposed city map was to have included all of District 2 east of Interstate 75, excluding the Cumberland Community Improvement District, and a population of nearly 100,000.
Cityhood leaders said later in 2019 that they were seeking to expand the map, based on what they were hearing from those outside the proposed city limits who wanted in.
But the East Cobb Alliance, a group opposed to cityhood, offered up a best-guess estimate in December, and a majority of county commissioners and the Cobb legislators expressed doubts about the cityhood issue.
A few days later, the cityhood effort was abandoned. David Birdwell, one of the chief spokesmen for Committee for the Cityhood in East Cobb, said at that time that “we wanted to take the time to do it right.”
The group hasn’t made any public statements since then, and its website domain has expired. An interactive map it commissioned showing the initial boundaries that bored down to the neighborhood level remains active.
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