Top East Cobb stories for 2019: Cityhood proposal unveiled, then stalls

East Cobb city forum
Mindy Seger of the anti-city group East Cobb Alliance debates David Birdwell of the Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb in November. (ECN photo by Wendy Parker)

After finally going public with their plans in early 2019, leaders of the East Cobb cityhood initiative announced in December they would not be pursuing legislation in 2020 that would call for a referendum.

The Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb, Inc. held or appeared at a few town hall meetings in the spring, but then didn’t come back to the public for several months, after a cityhood bill had been introduced in the Georgia legislature and as opposition grew to include a grassroots citizens’ organization.

Even after a group of financial experts reaffirmed the financial viability of the proposed city (with one dissenting view), the cityhood group faced hostile response from opponents who suspected developers’ interests behind the push.

They also contended that tax rates would go up with a new city that would add an unwanted extra layer of government.

That was certainly the sentiment at a town hall meeting at Wheeler High School in November, and at a debate the following day before the East Cobb Business Association.

East Cobb News Cityhood Coverage

By then, other local elected officials, including those serving on the Cobb Board of Commissioners and legislators, said they hadn’t been kept up to date by cityhood leaders, including seeing a revised map of the proposed city.

It was only after the cityhood legislative effort was delayed to 2021 that the cityhood group acknowledged that only an outline of a new map had been produced, and not any revised details.

In explaining the decision to hold off on legislation in the new year, cityhood leader David Birdwell said that “we want to take the time to do this right” and that better efforts to communicate and engage with the community are needed.

“We live in a special place and we’re all passionate about doing the right things for our neighborhoods. Many members of this committee—and all of the members of the Independent Finance Group—started out as skeptics of cityhood. For all of us, an objective look at the facts led to only one conclusion: Cityhood would result in an overwhelming net positive for the people of East Cobb.”

The anti-cityhood East Cobb Alliance said it will continue to maintain opposition and considers the legislation sponsored by State Rep. Matt Dollar of East Cobb active when the General Assembly session begins in January.

After debating Birdwell at the ECBA event, Alliance leader Mindy Seger acknowledged that “there’s kind of been a political awakening” in East Cobb over the cityhood issue.

“It’s gotten people engaged,” Seger said, “and that’s a good thing.”

 

Get Our Free E-Mail Newsletter!

Every Sunday we round up the week’s top headlines and preview the upcoming week in the East Cobb News Digest. Click here to sign up, and you’re good to go!

Editor’s Note: East Cobb cityhood an idea worth considering

East Cobb Cityhood idea
East Cobb Cityhood leader David Birdwell met a skeptical and at times hostile crowd at the group’s first public appearance in March. (ECN file photos)

The leaders of the East Cobb cityhood effort did the right thing this week by calling off their push for legislation and a referendum in 2020.

They were running out of time to get too many things done—including finalizing a map and a proposed list of services—and had stoked even more opposition, suspicion and confusion for months this spring and summer when they barely connected with the public at all.

County elected officials, including legislators, hadn’t been told what was going on.

State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, East Cobb city map
State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick said she got a lot of negative feedback about East Cobb cityhood.

After its first town hall meeting in March, the Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb had its work cut out, as citizens packed a church parish hall and demanded to know who, what and especially why this was being proposed.

A month later the cityhood group had a town hall meeting at Walton High School. Like that and future events it held, citizens could ask questions only by writing them down on a note card for a moderator to read. Or not.

This is no way to have a meaningful dialogue with the public about a dramatic change in their local government, in an initiative that would ultimately be decided by citizens.

Neither is having a cityhood bill filed in the legislature the day after that first town hall meeting, and on the next-to-last day of the General Assembly session.

At the time, I thought it smacked of another bad-faith effort on the part of the cityhood group, which paid for a financial feasibility study issued last November, but whose members remained anonymous and unwilling to meet with the public.

At one point on its website, the cityhood group explained that it wasn’t identifying its donors or others involved for fear of harassment from their “enemies” and the media.

By dodging such basic questions, and setting up a non-profit 501(c)4 “social welfare” organization to conceal donors, original cityhood leaders likely created more opponents than they ever conjured up in their paranoid imaginations.

Related stories

Public suspicions were immediate, and they continue today: Development interests are behind this. Nothing but a land grab. Look at what’s happening in Sandy Springs. We don’t want that coming here.

Also: We don’t want another layer of government. My property taxes are bound to go up. The services I get from the county are just fine.

When the cityhood group finally faced the public, newly appointed cityhood leader David Birdwell didn’t stand much of a chance.

East Cobb cityhood
East Cobb cityhood leader Rob Eble speaks at a Wheeler HS town hall meeting in November.

I’ve found him and Rob Eble, another newcomer to the group, to be well-intentioned. But overcoming the bad start of others has been a tall order, and it’s dogged them ever since.

So has the lack of any kind of public groundswell for a City of East Cobb. When prominent civic leaders say they were blindsided by this, that’s telling.

Trying to push through legislation in two years, hiring high-profile lobbyists and keeping the public in the dark for months hurt the cityhood case even more.

Another big question: What’s the rush?

Other cityhood efforts in metro Atlanta have taken several legislative cycles. There is so much to work out, in addition to finances: Intergovernmental agreements, start-up costs, staffing even a bare-bones city hall, and that darn map.

Eble told me this week the cityhood group never finalized an expanded map to include the Pope and Lassiter school zones. It was an estimate provided by a GIS service that detailed the original map.

Ultimately, the East Cobb cityhood effort struggled from a lack of organization more than having what many consider a shadowy agenda.

Eble admitted the cityhood group made mistakes communicating with the public. As for the idea of cityhood, he said, “I still believe in it. But nobody’s trying to shove anything down anybody’s throat.”

There are many who will never believe this, of course, and they will remain ever-vigilant to stop cityhood.

Yet I’ve also talked to, and heard from, citizens who are unsure. They weren’t necessarily opposed to cityhood but wanted more information, and didn’t feel like they were getting it.

Some others roiled by an annexation spat this summer with the City of Marietta have been open to the idea of an East Cobb city, fearing the county can’t protect them.

As these last few months have transpired, I do think the idea of cityhood is worth considering. I’ve been accused of being biased, both for and against a city, but I don’t really have an opinion.

Too big to succeed?

As someone who grew up in East Cobb, I’ve seen my community become suburbanized, and now more densely developed in some areas.

This is happening all over the county, which has more than 750,000 people and is projected to have a population of one million by 2050.

Before the cityhood issue was raised, I had been wondering if Cobb County government could continue to operate as it has.

There are serious concerns about public safety staffing, the county’s growing pension obligations and addressing transportation and development concerns.

Is Cobb too big to govern the way it is, with a countywide chairman and four district commissioners serving nearly 200,000 people each? And representing communities that are distinct from one another?

East Cobb cityhood
Tre Hutchins and Galt Porter of the South Cobb Alliance, a pro-cityhood group in Mableton.

There are times when commissioners are squabbling during their meetings that I wonder if they can even agree on what to have for lunch.

I’ve thought a citizen-led, grassroots cityhood movement in East Cobb could gain some traction, especially around zoning, development and land use issues.

I could see a City of East Cobb providing those and other community development services, including code enforcement.

I’ve never understood why the cityhood effort centered upon providing expensive police and fire services to supplant excellent, if not fully-staffed county departments? We have the lowest crime and fire rates in Cobb County.

Why not provide something better than what exists now, in say, sanitation, where the increasingly monopolized American Disposal private hauler is the subject of many complaints?

A financial review group studying the East Cobb feasibility study recommended that option, at least to start.

A “city light” form of government could serve East Cobb much better than one worrying about how to pay for new fire trucks and police cars and trained professionals to staff them.

Transparency matters

The “pause and reset” phase for cityhood, to borrow Eble’s phrase to me, is a good time to rethink those matters, as well as to be fully forthcoming with the public before gearing up for 2021.

At the outset, the cityhood group should lay out all of its finances, including how much money has been spent, and who’s been footing the bills.

Identify everybody who’s given money to the cause, and been involved in the effort in a significant way. Everybody.

This isn’t a private business deal, but an entirely public matter that could affect the lives of more than 100,000 people.

Follow the lead of the Mableton cityhood effort, which conducted extensive town halls over a couple of years to really hear what the public thinks, without note card questions and a “here’s what we want to do” mentality.

East Cobb cityhood
East Cobb cityhood leader David Birdwell at an East Cobb Business Association debate in November.

Like Mableton, have a city map fully detailed, including city council districts that were indicated in the East Cobb bill but never visualized, and provide an online survey.

Better communications include regular use of social media. The East Cobb cityhood group barely updated those platforms and its website, which is absurd heading into the third decade of the 21st century.

Cityhood leaders should have regular discussions with legislators and other local elected officials, since without their support a referendum will likely never happen.

The East Cobb cityhood group certainly has serious intentions. It had the money to buy access and line up the mechanics of getting a bill passed in the legislature.

What it didn’t have was a concept of what it really takes to gather public support, and its efforts to explain its reasons for cityhood were belated and underwhelming.

Something as substantive as creating a new local government shouldn’t be accepted as easily as cityhood leaders may have thought. Nor should it be categorically rejected as the anti-city East Cobb Alliance has maintained.

For those of us who have an open mind about the issue, we’re still receptive to hearing a better case being made.

 

Get Our Free E-Mail Newsletter!

Every Sunday we round up the week’s top headlines and preview the upcoming week in the East Cobb News Digest. Click here to sign up, and you’re good to go!

East Cobb cityhood effort delayed: ‘We want to take the time to do it right’

East Cobb cityhood group
East Cobb cityhood has been greeted with skepticism since the group’s first public appearance in March. (ECN file photo)

The Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb announced Thursday it will not be pursuing legislation next year that would call for a referendum later in 2020.

A bill introduced this year by State Rep. Matt Dollar of East Cobb was to have been considered in the upcoming legislative session.

But after two public events last month, including the announcement of an expanded proposed city map, the cityhood group said it’s opting to go through another two-year legislative cycle.

“We are committed to continuing this process,” cityhood CEO David Birdwell said in a statement. “We want to take the time to do it right because we know that the more educated voters are on this issue, the more they will support it.”

East Cobb News has left messages with Birdwell and Dollar seeking comment.

Rob Eble, another cityhood leader, told East Cobb News the group “got a lot of feedback,” and “people feel like the process was rushed. That was the biggest complaint.

“We really took that to heart. The last thing we want is for this to be divisive and this was becoming divisive.”

Eble said the cityhood group wants to make a renewed effort to engage more with the public.

He acknowledged that while there are those who oppose cityhood, others said they weren’t sure what they thought but felt they didn’t have enough information and felt the process was being rushed.

Related stories

Last month, the cityhood group conducted a town hall meeting at Wheeler High School and participated in a debate with cityhood opponents.

The cityhood group had not made any further public comments or appearances since then, until Thursday’s announcement.

The expanded map was to have included the Pope and Lassiter attendance zones, but the cityhood group has not produced a detailed map for the public.

Legislators, including State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick of East Cobb, who would be the bill’s likely sponsor in the Senate, said they haven’t seen a map.

When contacted by East Cobb News Thursday, Kirkpatrick said she was glad for the cityhood delay, because of feedback she got from constituents.

“I think that’s a wise decision,” she said. “This is going to be much more fair to the people of East Cobb.”

She said the group was running out of time to have a new map ready for the legislative session, and constituents were all over the map on what they thought about cityhood.

Kirkpatrick said some were opposed, others worried about their taxes going up, and some were concerned about development issues.

“There’s just been a lot of confusion,” she said, referring to the changing map and suggestions to change the proposed services of a City of East Cobb.

She said she was preparing to do a poll before the legislature begins, but holding off on cityhood for now “is a better approach.”

East Cobb Cityhood town hall
East Cobb Cityhood leaders David Birdwell, Karen Hallacy and Rob Eble at an April town hall meeting at Walton High School. (ECN file)

Earlier this week, the East Cobb Alliance, which opposes cityhood, produced what it called its best estimate of the revised map. Birdwell estimated the new population would exceed 115,000.

The Alliance said it still considers the legislation active, since the cityhood group “is no longer in control of what happens in the Legislature.” 

“Until/Unless [Dollar] says he will withdraw the bill, and does withdraw the bill, he can, and very well may, continue to push this bill forward, regardless of what the Cityhood Committee says they want.”

Dollar, who sponsored the cityhood bill in the house on the next-to-the-last day of the 2019 legislative session, told East Cobb News earlier this month that the map was still being revised and probably would be until the 2020 General Assembly starts.

Eble said the map Birdwell showed during the Wheeler town hall was an estimate done by a GIS firm for the cityhood group.

“That’s one of the reasons we don’t want to do this during the legislative session,” Eble said.

The decision to delay cityhood comes a little more than a year after the group unveiled a financial feasibility study conducted by Georgia State University.

That study concluded that a City of East Cobb, in unincorporated Cobb in Cobb Commission District 2 east of I-75 and with a population of 96,000 was financially viable.

The study concluded that a city could provide community development, police and fire services at or below the current Cobb millage rates, and with a surplus.

But skeptics of the study and of cityhood emerged quickly, as the group declined to identify donors and others pushing for a municipality.

The group asked several citizens to examine the feasibility study. One of them, Joe O’Connor, quit the ad hoc group when he was told it was none of his business to know who funded the study.

O’Connor said he was told most of the study was funded by Owen Brown of the East Cobb-based Retail Planning Corp., which leases shopping center space. Brown is the cityhood group’s treasurer, but the refusal to name others has fueled suspicions of development interests behind the cityhood drive.

Earlier this year, Birdwell, a retired entrepreneur with a real estate background, became the public spokesman for the cityhood group and is listed as its CEO.

He conducted the first public meeting involving the cityhood group, during commissioner Bob Ott’s town hall meeting in March, and was met with skeptical and at times hostile reaction.

Under state law, cityhood bills must go through a two-year cycle. A bill would have to be reintroduced in 2021 and must be passed by the full legislature by 2022 for a referendum to take place.

Alliance leader Bill Simon said his group will continue to track Dollar’s bill unless or until “it dies in committee, or is defeated in the Legislature. One thing we know from experience in watching the Georgia Legislature: Nothing is ever guaranteed, and we trust nothing we hear or read when it comes to legislation.”

Eble said the cityhood group’s plan is “not to give up,” but to use public feedback it received to offer a fresh approach to connecting with the public.

“We made some mistakes,” he said, “but there’s no ulterior motive here.”

East Cobb city forum
Mindy Seger of the anti-city East Cobb Alliance debates David Birdwell of the Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb in November (ECN file)

 

Get Our Free E-Mail Newsletter!

Every Sunday we round up the week’s top headlines and preview the upcoming week in the East Cobb News Digest. Click here to sign up, and you’re good to go!

East Cobb cityhood opponents unveil estimate of revised map

East Cobb Alliance city map

East Cobb cityhood leaders still haven’t made public details of a revised map of the proposed city, more than a month after announcing new boundaries at a town hall meeting.

A group opposed to cityhood isn’t waiting around. On Monday, it released what it calls a “best-estimate” of what it thinks the new proposed map will look like.

The East Cobb Alliance said its version of the map was done with donated efforts from South Avenue Consulting, a Smyrna-based Geographic Information Systems (GIS) firm. The map, according to the Alliance, is 95 percent accurate.

The map was done, the group said, without exact GIS coordinates from the Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb and was drawn from the image cityhood leader David Birdwell displayed at a Nov. 11 town hall meeting at Wheeler High School.

At their first town hall meeting in April, cityhood leaders said they would be revising the map, most likely to include the Pope and Lassiter attendance zones.

David Birdwell, new East Cobb map
Cityhood leader David Birdwell points to a revised map at a November town hall meeting, but that’s all the public has seen of the proposed new boundaries. (ECN file)

 

Birdwell indicated at the Wheeler meeting the new boundaries would indeed include most of the Pope and Lassiter areas.

He didn’t offer precise details, saying he had first seen the new map only that day. He wasn’t sure if a financial feasibility study done for the cityhood group based on the original map would have to be revised or redone.

East Cobb News has left messages for Birdwell seeking comment.

He did not respond to a message earlier this month when East Cobb News contacted State Rep. Matt Dollar of East Cobb, the cityhood bill sponsor. He wasn’t at the Wheeler town hall and said he had not seen the map shown at that meeting.

Dollar did say that the map is undergoing revisions and probably will be after the Georgia legislature convenes in January.

His bill must pass the full legislature in order for a cityhood referendum to be held next year. Lawmakers also would approve the final map and proposed city charter.

Related stories

But other local lawmakers, including State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick of East Cobb, said they haven’t seen the new map as they hear from citizens about cityhood.

The original map included all of unincorporated Cobb in commission District 2 east of I-75, excluding the Cumberland Community Improvement District.

The cityhood group later released a detailed GIS-generated map that lets citizens know whether their neighborhood would be in the proposed city.

That map hasn’t been updated to reflect the proposed new boundaries.

The East Cobb Alliance estimate indicates that the northern boundary of the city would be the Cobb-Cherokee line, stretching from extreme Northeast Cobb to the Trickum Road-Jamerson Road intersection.

Original East Cobb city map
The original map would included only one quadrant of the Holly Springs-Post Oak Tritt intersection in the City of East cobb; a new estimate would include all but the southwest corner.

The additional areas would some of the Ebenezer Road corridor, mostly below Blackwell Road, and most of the Holly Springs Road corridor, and would fill in the area between Holly Springs and Sandy Plains with the area in the original map.

Also in the proposed new city would be the Sandy Plains-Shallowford area with a cluster of commercial and retail properties as well as several county facilities:

  • Mountain View Regional Library
  • East Cobb Senior Center
  • Mountain View Community Center
  • The Art Place
  • Mountain View Aquatic Center
  • Carl Harrison Park
  • Sandy Plains Park
  • Sweat Mountain Park

The original map included a population of around 86,000; at the Wheeler town hall, Birdwell said the new map would include a population of around 115,000, but that was an estimate.

The cityhood group is proposing a City of East Cobb provide community development (including planning and zoning), police and fire services.

Those new areas all fall in Cobb commission District 3, represented by JoAnn Birrell, who’s opposed to cityhood.

She said after a Nov. 12 debate between Birdwell and Mindy Seger of the East Cobb Alliance that nobody from the cityhood group had contacted her about the new map.

“They’re encroaching in my district,” she said at the time. “So now I’m being outspoken.”

Since then, Birrell has included cityhood information in her weekly newsletter, urging her constituents to get in touch with their elected officials, including Cobb’s state lawmakers, to tell them what they think.

She also included contact information for members of the House Governmental Affairs Committee, the first step for the cityhood bill’s consideration.

 

Get Our Free E-Mail Newsletter!

Every Sunday we round up the week’s top headlines and preview the upcoming week in the East Cobb News Digest. Click here to sign up, and you’re good to go!

Dollar: Proposed East Cobb city map revisions still in progress

The sponsor of the East Cobb cityhood bill says changes to the proposed city map are still ongoing, and he doesn’t think anything will be finalized until the Georgia legislature returns in January.

East Cobb cityhood
State Rep. Matt Dollar is the sponsor of the East Cobb cityhood bill.

State Rep. Matt Dollar (R-East Cobb) said he hasn’t seen a proposed revision of the map that was presented at a town hall meeting on Nov. 11 by the group pushing for cityhood.

The Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb wants the map to include the areas around Pope and Lassiter high schools. The initial map included most of unincorporated East Cobb in Cobb Commission District 2.

The new map would venture into Commission District 3, represented by JoAnn Birrell, who’s come out against cityhood.

During the town hall meeting at Wheeler High School, David Birdwell of the cityhood committee flashed a revised map for the audience, which he said he received only that day.

A more detailed map, he said at the time, would not be immediately available from the state apportionment office.

Nearly a month later, there still isn’t a revised map proposal for the public to view. The cityhood committee’s website includes an interactive map for citizens to see whether or not they live in the proposed city, but it’s the original map.

East Cobb city interactive map
The East Cobb cityhood group’s website still has the original proposed map; click here for details.

When contacted by East Cobb News, Dollar said he was out of town and unable to attend that meeting and “I’m not sure what they were showing.”

“We’re still taking feedback,” Dollar said about the process for drawing a revised map. “We’ll have a better idea what the map will look like once the legislative session begins.

“We’re all working together to see what the map’s going to look like.”

Dollar filed HB 718 (you can read it here) on the next-to-last day of the 2019 legislature and the day after the cityhood group’s first public meeting.

Under state law, cityhood bills have to go through a two-year process. The full legislature must pass the bill in the 2020 session before a referendum would go to voters—most likely in November—living in the proposed City of East Cobb.

The original city map would have a population of nearly 90,000, and if it expands as Birdwell has suggested, it would top more than 110,000.

David Birdwell, new East Cobb map
East Cobb cityhood leader David Birdwell presented an expanded map at a Nov. 11 town hall meeting, but has not provided more details of the proposed revisions.

That would make a City of East Cobb the second-largest municipality in the metro Atlanta area. But a more accurate estimate, along with detailed boundaries of the proposed new map, remain unclear.

East Cobb News has left a message with Birdwell seeking comment.

State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick (R-East Cobb) told East Cobb News earlier this week she hasn’t seen a new map. Cityhood bills must have a local Senate sponsor, but she hasn’t taken a position and may be doing some polling.

Dollar said reaction from his constituents in East Cobb’s District 45 has been mixed. He acknowledges there’s opposition, including the group East Cobb Alliance, but said he’s gotten “a lot of e-mails from people who do like” the cityhood proposal.

He said the objective is to have a formalized map for the proposed City of East Cobb by the time the bill would be considered by the House Governmental Affairs Committee, the first step in the legislative process.

He said he doesn’t anticipate, at least for now, any other significant changes to the rest of the cityhood bill and proposed City of East Cobb charter.

Ultimately, the legislature would draw up a final city map and make other changes if it passes the cityhood bill.

“We’ll have a lot more clarity soon,” Dollar said about the map. “Right now, it’s just not there.”

Related stories

 

Get Our Free E-Mail Newsletter!

Every Sunday we round up the week’s top headlines and preview the upcoming week in the East Cobb News Digest. Click here to sign up, and you’re good to go!

Former East Cobb cityhood review member explains resignation

A member of a five-man review panel that evaluated the East Cobb cityhood financial feasibility study said he resigned right before the group’s final report was issued in September due to a “math problem,” not ideological differences.Shailesh Bettadapur, East Cobb cityhood review group

Shailesh Bettadapur, an East Cobb resident and vice president for Mohawk Industries, disputed claims by Bill Green, another member of what was called the Independent Financial Group, that he had ideological reasons for stepping down.

Bettadapur’s wife Jackie is the chairwoman of the Cobb County Democratic Party.

Bettadapur told East Cobb News he resigned because he didn’t agree with the other four members of the review group on the financial conclusions in the report. He also alleged that the IFG wasn’t independent because Green “was attempting to reach a specific pro-cityhood conclusion.”

Bettadapur said he wasn’t interested in going public with his concerns until Green, speaking at a cityhood town hall meeting on Nov. 11, attributed the resignation of an unnamed fifth member to that person’s relationship with “a county party official,” who also was not identified.

“As that fifth member, I can say without hesitation that Mr. Green’s assertion is false,” said Bettadapur, who wasn’t at the town hall meeting at Wheeler High School but who said he watched a video replay of the event.

He’s also expressed his concerns to Cobb commissioners and members of the county’s legislative delegation.

Four IFG members concluded that a proposed City of East Cobb is financially feasible without tax increases, but recommended that a new municipality start without a police force until inter-governmental agreements would be hashed out.

The Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb, which spent $36,000 on the feasibility study conducted last year by Georgia State University researchers, is proposing community development, police and fire services.

Related stories

Its proposed City of East Cobb would include more than 100,000 residents with an expanded map that includes the Pope and Lassiter high school attendance zones.

State Rep. Matt Dollar of East Cobb has introduced legislation at the behest of the cityhood committee, which has spent tens of thousands of dollars on lobbyists. The bill must be passed by the Georgia General Assembly next year for a referendum to take place later in 2020.

Bettadapur was the only member of the group who voted against the final IFG report because of “fundamental” issues he said he had about financial assumptions. He resigned two days before the report was released, saying he wanted the others to be able to “speak with one voice” about its conclusions.

Green offered him a chance to write a dissenting report, but Bettadapur said he thought the original report was too long, and “this isn’t a court case. I didn’t see the point.”

Math or ideology?

When contacted by East Cobb News, Green said he stands by his belief that Bettadapur had ideological—but not necessarily partisan—reasons for leaving the group.

“It’s because he didn’t do any of the math,” said Green, a retired financial executive with a cloud computing company.

“He never contributed a darn thing to the group’s efforts. He just didn’t do squiddly-diddly. He was there to obstruct.”

East Cobb cityhood
East Cobb cityhood leader David Birdwell faces a packed audience at a March town hall meeting at the Catholic Church of St. Ann. (ECN file)

Green said Bettadapur may claim he’s impartial on cityhood, but says he observed a clear Democratic presence at a town hall meeting in March at the Catholic Church of St. Ann, with some wearing purple shirts bearing the name of Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

Green said he thinks Democrats eventually “are going to be opposed, but if you split the Republicans you don’t get cityhood.”

As for the IFG’s partisan affiliations, Green said he identifies as Libertarian-Republican, while the other three are Democrats, and two of them are mostly independent: “Our team is not ideological.”

Bettadapur acknowledged his wife’s political activities, “which is something that the Cityhood committee would have known at the time I joined. It obviously did not matter then, but became the scapegoat when I resigned.”

He said the Cobb Democratic Party is not taking a position on East Cobb cityhood and that he still doesn’t have an opinion.

Bettadapur said he doesn’t see how the cityhood group’s claims of providing better services for the same or lower tax millage rates can be accomplished.

He said when he joined the IFG, he told cityhood leaders David Birdwell and Rob Eble that he was neutral on cityhood.

Arguing over numbers

“I viewed, and still view, this primarily as a math problem,” Bettadapur said. “I started with the thesis that you could not add a layer of government and administration and obtain the same or increased quality of services without also raising taxes and fees. Yet, I was open to being persuaded otherwise. Nothing I’ve seen so far has done that.”

Bettadapur said each of Cobb’s existing six cities have higher millage rates than the unincorporated county, so “why would East Cobb be different?”

The IFG stated in its report that Cobb County government is committing double taxation with what it’s charging cities for providing county services. “The notion that a City of East Cobb could negotiate a transfer higher than the other six cities is, in my view, not credible,” Bettadapur said.

Bill Green of the Independent Financial Group, at right, with East Cobb cityhood leaders at a Wheeler HS town hall. (ECN file)

In particular, he thinks the IFG’s claim that a city of East Cobb would be able to get $11 million from the county for police services in the inter-government agreement (instead of a $2.5 million estimate in the feasibility study) is unrealistic.

He also questioned cost estimates for new city to purchase firehouses (at around $5K each) and suggested that the county would likely include older equipment in those purchases.

And he disputed Green’s claim at the Wheeler town hall that “there’s a tax cut to be had” should a new city of East Cobb be formed.

“It’s just nonsense,” Bettadapur said. “It’s not going to happen.”

Green defended the IFG’s calculations, “saying the numbers look good,” and took issue with financial claims made by cityhood opponents, including the East Cobb Alliance. “Any numbers we can come up with, we can blow them out of the water.”

He said he wishes Bettadapur well and admitted “he’s a smart guy” whose primary value to the review group was offering a differing point of view to avoid groupthink.

While Green countered that if Bettadapur “ever does the math, let me know,” Bettadapur said that he remains “sympathetic to the idea of local control. But local control doesn’t mean it’s going to be cheaper.”

 

Get Our Free E-Mail Newsletter!

Every Sunday we round up the week’s top headlines and preview the upcoming week in the East Cobb News Digest. Click here to sign up, and you’re good to go!

Editor’s Note: East Cobb cityhood, a golden goose and boiling frogs

East Cobb cityhood
East Cobb cityhood leaders heard plenty from citizens at a Wheeler High School town hall meeting this week. (ECN file)

In trying to lay out a case for why a City of East Cobb might be a better value for citizens’ tax money than Cobb County government, those behind a cityhood movement used some animal analogies this week.

They described East Cobb as a “golden goose,” with its middle class and wealthy homeowners comprising a hefty portion of the county’s tax base, and not receiving the public services, especially police and fire protection, to justify their property tax bills.

East Cobb citizens, they argued, may feel like a frog in slowly boiling water, unaware of how much worse the heat can get if they don’t figure out a way to jump out.

“How are we being boiled?” shouted a woman from the back of the auditorium at Wheeler High School, angry not at the message she was hearing, but the messengers.

Like many of the more than 100 or so people in attendance at a town hall meeting Monday night, she was more than skeptical of the cityhood narrative that East Cobb would be better off as a new city, with more responsive local government delivered without a tax increase.

East Cobb cityhood
Cityhood leaders Rob Eble and David Birdwell and Bill Green of the Independent Financial Group at the Wheeler town hall. (ECN file)

It’s a message that the Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb has been trying to make for several months, and that was renewed again this week.

“I was one of the frogs,” said Bill Green, who described himself as a cityhood skeptic, then became part of what was called the Independent Financial Group that concluded that a City of East Cobb is fiscally viable.

Before attending the cityhood’s first town hall meeting in March, he said, “I didn’t know what was going on.”

His comments to many of those in the Wheeler auditorium were unconvincing.

Cityhood leaders were heckled repeatedly by citizens unhappy about what they said is a lack of information, or a lack of transparency, or some of both.

Most of all, they remain deeply skeptical that the cityhood group that formed a little more than a year ago has given them any good reason to support a dramatic change in how their local government operates.

“I think it’s a solution in search of a problem,” said John Morgan, who lives in the nearby Willow Ridge subdivision.

He said he moved to East Cobb from DeKalb County more than 30 years ago, is satisfied with the Cobb County services he gets and doesn’t understand calls for what he said would be “another layer of bureaucracy.” Furthermore, slicing off an affluent part of Cobb would be “devastating” for the county and its AAA bond rating.

“And for what? We have a great life here. Why this?”

Related stories

Falling on deaf ears

It’s a refrain that’s been heard repeatedly, and increasingly with more vigor, in recent weeks. A newly formed citizens group opposing cityhood, the East Cobb Alliance, was part of a debate with cityhood leader David Birdwell on Tuesday at a luncheon meeting of the East Cobb Business Association.

Mindy Seger, an accountant, went toe-to-toe with Birdwell on several fronts, taking issue with a financial feasibility study, claims of better police and fire services, and individuals on the cityhood committee with real estate ties.

When Birdwell said only three of the 14 cityhood leaders had real estate estate backgrounds, including himself, she asked, “can we get that list?” (It was released on Friday, on the cityhood’s revamped website, and contained several changes from the initial group members announced in March).

When asked to identify those who’ve been funding cityhood expenses, Birdwell would say only that a “large group” of East Cobb residents have been making donations.

In several ways, Seger is the ideal representative for those dead-set against cityhood. She was well-prepared and kept to factual concerns opponents have had in what has been an emotionally fraught issue.

East Cobb city forum
Mindy Seger of the anti-city East Cobb Alliance debates David Birdwell of the Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb. (ECN file)

Like others who’ve come together to fight cityhood, she’s new to this kind of activism. She said after the debate that “there’s kind of been a political awakening” in East Cobb over the issue.

“It’s gotten people engaged,” Seger said, “and that’s a good thing.”

The citizens the cityhood group needs to win over are people like Joe O’Connor, a longtime East Cobb resident who liked the idea of cityhood after Cobb property tax rates went up in 2018.

When the financial feasibility study was released, O’Connor, who worked on East Cobb commissioner Bob Ott’s first campaign for office in 2008, was among those asked by the cityhood group to offer his thoughts.

When O’Connor asked who funded the study, he said he was told it was none of his business, and he promptly resigned.

State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, East Cobb city map
State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick is taking a “wait-and-see” approach about sponsoring an East Cobb cityhood bill. (ECN file)

Now, O’Connor couldn’t be more opposed to cityhood. At the ECBA luncheon, he said he received a call a couple weeks ago from a pollster asking questions about cityhood that he thought were designed to produce a “yes” vote. He said he told the caller his vote would be no, and in no uncertain terms.

“It’s obvious they’re not going to tell who’s behind this financially,” O’Connor said. “I never invest in a company when I don’t know who’s running it.”

At the Wheeler town hall meeting, resident Patty Hawkins said she’s got an open mind about cityhood, but wanted to get more information about the proposed city boundary line changes (they now include the Pope and Lassiter school clusters).

“I think it’s something to consider,” said Hawkins, who said “I think I’d vote for it,” but there’s still more she wants to learn about the issue.

For the moment, the cityhood opinion that matters the most may belong to State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick of East Cobb. The cityhood bill introduced last session by State Rep. Matt Dollar still needs a local senate sponsor if it’s to pass the legislature and establish a referendum next year.

Kirkpatrick told the crowd at Wheeler she’s getting mostly negative feedback about cityhood, but is keeping an open mind and welcoming feedback from constituents. She’s planning to do some of her own polling on cityhood before the end of the year, which could decide whether the bill will be taken up at all when the legislature returns in January.

After nearly a year since the cityhood effort was revealed, the lack of a genuine public groundswell remains the single biggest challenge for those proposing a City of East Cobb.

While a key lawmaker feels the boiling heat, and as the community watches to see which way she’ll jump, those who think their “golden goose” is being cooked with a cityhood effort are as loud and organized as they’ve ever been, and couldn’t be more distrustful.

 

Get Our Free E-Mail Newsletter!

Every Sunday we round up the week’s top headlines and preview the upcoming week in the East Cobb News Digest. Click here to sign up, and you’re good to go!

East Cobb cityhood committee releases names of group members

East Cobb Cityhood town hall
East Cobb Cityhood leaders David Birdwell, Karen Hallacy and Rob Eble at a Walton High School town hall meeting in April. (ECN file photo)

The list of names of those belonging to the Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb is a bit different than what the organization originally released earlier this year.

After cityhood leaders were asked at two different cityhood-related events earlier this week to identify all the indivdiuals involved, the following is the group of names included on the committee’s website:

  • David Birdwell, retired logistics real estate executive
  • Owen Brown, owner and president of retail real estate company
  • Rob Eble, technology consultant
  • Joe Gavalis, retired federal agent
  • Dee Gay, insurance consultant
  • Karan Hallacy, Georgia PTA president, Development Authority of Cobb County member
  • Lisa Hanson, former sales and marketing executive
  • Nick Johnson, healthcare technology
  • Chris Mayer, SR VP sales & marketing Flexible Packaging
  • Chip Patterson, partner, hospitality business
  • Jerry Quan, retired Cobb County Police Precinct 4 commander, current school resource officer
  • Carolyn Roddy, attorney
  • David Womack, technology outsourcing deployment
  • John Woods, financial consulting

With the exception of Johnson, Mayer and Womack, all of the above were included on the orginal cityhood committee list when it was released in March, or joined soon after.

Original committee members Sharon McGehee, an associate director of advancement at Mt. Bethel Christian Academy and Kevin Taitz, a technology consultant, are no longer listed.

The original list had been on the cityhood website until recently, when the some of the site content was changed.

Birdwell, who led a cityhood town hall meeting Monday and was in a debate with the anti-cityhood East Cobb Alliance on Tuesday, also was asked to identify who is funding the cityhood’s feasibility study and lobbyists.

He wouldn’t name names except to say that “a large group” of East Cobb residents have made donations.

Birdwell also was asked if a revised map of the proposed City of East Cobb boundaries, unveiled at the town hall meeting, would be posted soon.

He said it would be, but the cityhood group had just received it from the state apportionment office and a link wasn’t immediately available.

Related stories

Get Our Free E-Mail Newsletter!

Every Sunday we round up the week’s top headlines and preview the upcoming week in the East Cobb News Digest. Click here to sign up, and you’re good to go!

Birrell on proposed East Cobb city: ‘I don’t support it’

East Cobb city forum
Mindy Seger of the anti-city East Cobb Alliance debates David Birdwell of the Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb. (East Cobb News photo by Wendy Parker)

After learning that the proposed City of East Cobb map would include areas she represents, Cobb commissioner JoAnn Birrell gave an emphatic answer Tuesday about what she thinks about it.

“I don’t support it,” Birrell said after pro- and anti- cityhood representatives debated before the East Cobb Business Association.

‘I don’t see how you’re going to provide better services for the same taxes you’re paying now.”

That’s what anti-cityhood advocates have been saying after the group leading the cityhood push has claimed a new municipality can deliver better services at the same tax rate East Cobb residents are paying now to the county.

For the first time, opposing forces in the cityhood issue faced one another in a forum format that included opening and closing statements and questions from the audience.

Among the crowd of nearly 200 at the Olde Towne Athletic Club was Birrell, whose District 3 includes some of east and northeast Cobb. The original proposed city boundaries included only parts of District 2, represented by commissioner Bob Ott.

But at a town hall meeting Monday, the Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb announced that the map had expanded to include the Pope and Lassiter school attendance zones.

Birrell said she has not heard anything from the cityhood group about revising the map, and that the only information she learned came from visiting the cityhood committee’s website.

“They’re encroaching in my district,” she said. “So now I’m being outspoken.”

Ott, whose town hall meeting in March was the first public event for the cityhood committee, has not taken a position on the issue.

There’s been speculation he would be interested in running for mayor of East Cobb if a city is created, but he hasn’t responded to that, nor has he indicated if he will be running for re-election or another office in 2020.

Related stories

During the debate, David Birdwell of the cityhood group repeated many of the same points he had given at the Monday town hall meeting: That a new city, with around 115,000 residents, would give citizens more local control of their government, improve public safety, not raise taxes and develop a stronger civic identity in East Cobb.

Mindy Seger of the East Cobb Alliance, which opposes cityhood, mentioned the current staffing and retention issues facing Cobb public safety agencies and wondered “how a new city just getting its legs would be able to solve this problem better than any other city has.”

She also pressed Birdwell to reveal the identities behind those funding cityhood expenses that include a Georgia State University feasibility study ($36,000) and more recently, two high profile lobbyists for next year’s legislative session (both at more than $10,000 each).

He said three of the 14 members of the cityhood committee have real estate backgrounds (including himself). Those names are not currently listed on the group’s website, but he said he “would be glad to share it.”

“It raises suspicions about what people are doing” behind the scenes in the pro-cityhood group, Seger said.

She pressed him to name names, saying the cityhood committee has issues with a “lack of transparency.”

Birdwell said a”large group” of East Cobb residents have made donations, but he didn’t identify anyone during the forum. He said in addition to town hall meetings in the spring and Monday’s at Wheeler High School, the cityhood committee has met with homeowners associations, business groups and others.

Seger also said she had heard nothing from State Rep. Matt Dollar, the East Cobb Republican who sponsored a cityhood bill in the 2019 legislative session, in regards to the revised city maps.

“We don’t need a new city for this area,” said Seger, an accountant who has lived in East Cobb since 2006.

Birdwell argued that if real estate interests wanted to pursue high-density development in East Cobb, “they would want to keep it like it is,” meaning having zoning cases decided by county commissioners.

“If you love East Cobb the way is is,” Birdwell said, borrowing the Alliance’s slogan and holding up the opponent’s business card, “the best way to keep doing that is with incorporation.”

Birdwell said after the forum the cityhood group would like to have some more town hall meetings, ideally in December, before the legislative session begins in January.

Dollar’s bill would have to pass both houses next session for a referendum on East Cobb cityhood to take place.

Although originally eyed for the primaries next May, Birdwell said it would be “virtually impossible” to put a cityhood referendum on the ballot then, and that it would more likely be on the November 2020 general election ballot.

More coverage

 

Get Our Free E-Mail Newsletter!

Every Sunday we round up the week’s top headlines and preview the upcoming week in the East Cobb News Digest. Click here to sign up, and you’re good to go!

Expanded East Cobb city map includes Pope, Lassiter districts

Expanded East Cobb city map, David Birdwell
East Cobb Cityhood committee leader David Birdwell unveils a revised map of the proposed city at a town hall meeting Monday. (ECN photos by Wendy Parker)

Many of the familiar talking points about East Cobb cityhood were made Monday night at a town hall meeting at Wheeler High School.

So were many of the objections to a City of East Cobb that also have been heard for many months.

What was new at the meeting organized by the Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb was the proposed map for a City of East Cobb that would be larger than the original, and would include the Pope and Lassiter high school attendance zones.

Cityhood committee members said they just got the map earlier Monday from the state legislative office that draws up such boundaries.

The revision comes several months after a lobbying effort that also included citizens from the Sprayberry High School community, which for now is being left out.

“It could be added now or through annexation,” cityhood leader David Birdwell said.

The original map included most of unincorporated Cobb in Cobb commission District 2 east of I-75. That covered the Walton and most of the Wheeler attendance zones, but only a sliver of the Pope and Lassiter areas and had a population of nearly 90,000 people.

State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, East Cobb city map
State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick

The new population figure wasn’t immediately available, but it could boost a potential City of East Cobb to the second-largest city in metro Atlanta.

‘Wait and see’

The map is part of legislation sponsored at the end of the 2019 session by State Rep. Matt Dollar (R-East Cobb), and that must pass in 2020 for a referendum to be called next fall.

(Read the bill here.)

Among the more than 100 people in attendance at the Wheeler auditorium was State. Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, a Republican of East Cobb who is a critical player in the process.

State law requires cityhood bills to have local sponsors in each chamber of the legislature. Kirkpatrick and State Rep. Sharon Cooper, who also was in attendance Monday, have said they have not formed an opinion on East Cobb cityhood.

East Cobb cityhood legislation
The original proposed East Cobb city map.

Kirkpatrick told East Cobb News she’s been getting plenty of anti-cityhood sentiment from constituents, and that she wants to give the pro-cityhood forces a chance to “make their case.”

Her perspective, she said for now, remains “wait and see.” During the town hall, she said she would do some polling near the end of the year and said she continues to welcome feedback from citizens, no matter how they feel about the issue.

The cityhood committee also has retained two high-profile lobbyists for the 2020 legislative session.

When a citizen asked Kirkpatrick about Dollar’s whereabouts, she said he had been out of the country and would be returning Tuesday.

The crowd occasionally grew boisterous during a question-and-answer period. Questions were to have been written on note cards, but some shouted out questions or made statements, often in opposition to cityhood.

New EC City Map
The revised map would include the northeastern corner of East Cobb.

Others were concerned about how East Cobb cityhood would affect public schools. When Birdwell repeatedly said there would be no effect on schools—including the Cobb senior tax exemption—some citizens still interrupted.

By Georgia law, new cities cannot create school districts. School districts remain in such cities like Marietta, which have had them for many years.

We’ll have more from Monday’s meeting and other cityhood news after a forum on Tuesday between Birdwell and Bill Simon of the East Cobb Alliance, which opposes cityhood.

That forum will take place at a luncheon of the East Cobb Business Association.

And as soon as we get a better map of the revised City of East Cobb proposed boundaries, we’ll post that here too. Birdwell said it may take time for the state legislative office to make that available to the public.

Related coverage

 

Get Our Free E-Mail Newsletter!

Every Sunday we round up the week’s top headlines and preview the upcoming week in the East Cobb News Digest. Click here to sign up, and you’re good to go!

East Cobb cityhood group hires two high-profile lobbyists

Don Bolia, East Cobb cityhood lobbyist
Don Bolia

The group pressing for cityhood in East Cobb has hired two of the best-known lobbyists in state government, and both have deep connections in Georgia Republican politics.

According to filings with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, the Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb retained Don Bolia and Laura Norton on Oct. 29.

They are being paid more than $10,000 each to lobby on behalf of the East Cobb cityhood committee, according to the filings.

Bolia and Norton are the principal and senior associate, respectively, of Peachtree Government Relations, an Atlanta firm specializing in executive and legislative branch lobbying in Georgia.

Bolia, Norton and the firm have been named among the most influential in the state by JAMES, a magazine published by Phil Kent, CEO of the political consulting firm Insider Advantage and who previously served as a public relations representative for the cityhood group.

Laura Norton, East Cobb cityood lobbyist
Laura Norton

The East Cobb cityhood committee is holding a town hall meeting Monday at Wheeler High School and is taking part in a debate Tuesday sponsored by the East Cobb Business Association.

That forum also will include a representative of the East Cobb Alliance, a citizens group that opposes cityhood.

Legislation sponsored by State Rep. Matt Dollar (R-East Cobb) calling for an East Cobb cityhood referendum and proposed city charter is slated to be taken up next year in the Georgia General Assembly.

That bill, introduced on the next-to-last day of the 2019 session, calls for a city of nearly 100,000 people to be created out of unincorporated East Cobb in Cobb commission District 2.

Bolia was an aide to former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and served as political director and executive director of the Georgia Republican Party. He also was chief of staff to the Fulton County Commission.

Norton was a fundraiser for former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (now the U.S. Agriculture Secretary) and the Georgia Republican Party. Her husband is Smyrna City Council member Derek Norton, who is in a Dec. 3 runoff to succeed long-serving mayor Max Bacon.

The East Cobb cityhood group hired three lobbyists before the 2019 legislative session: John and Cynthia Garst, who have extensive experience with cityhood issues, and Jared Thomas, a partner in the Garst Thomas Public Affairs firm of Atlanta.

Thomas is another veteran Georgia GOP operative and was chief of staff and press secretary to current Gov. Brian Kemp when he was Georgia Secretary of State. Thomas also ran former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed’s unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor in 2006.

Although any city of East Cobb government would have non-partisan elections, the cityhood issue has sparked some partisan fire. In February, Kent, a conservative pundit, wrote on his Facebook page that “it will be a sad day when tax-and-spend Democrats take over the Cobb County Commission. East Cobbers need to protect themselves and their neighborhoods.”

Those comments, reported in various media outlets, came as cityhood leaders were planning for their first town hall meeting, and right before Dollar filed the East Cobb bill.

Cityhood leaders distanced themselves from Kent’s remarks, and since then, the cityhood effort has been publicly led by David Birdwell and Rob Eble, who came on board earlier this year.

According to files with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, Birdwell is listed as the CEO and Eble is the secretary of the East Cobb cityhood committee. The chief financial officer is Chip Patterson, who had been identified as a member of the committee earlier this year.

Patterson is a partner in an Atlanta real estate development firm who lives in the Atlanta Country Club area and is a former president of the Walton Touchdown Club.

The names of other members are no longer listed on the cityhood committee’s website, which has a different domain address than the original.

The East Cobb cityhood bill must pass both houses of the Georgia legislature in order for a referendum to be called.

Related coverage

 

Get Our Free E-Mail Newsletter!

Every Sunday we round up the week’s top headlines and preview the upcoming week in the East Cobb News Digest. Click here to sign up, and you’re good to go!

 

 

UPDATE: East Cobb cityhood opponents cancel secret meeting

UPDATED, 8:37 P.M.:

Bill Simon of the East Cobb Alliance contacted East Cobb News to report that the meeting on Thursday has been cancelled.

ORIGINAL STORY:

The anti-cityhood group East Cobb Alliance, which has been critical of pro-cityhood efforts conducted in secret, is meeting on Thursday to prepare for cityhood-related events next week.

But the Alliance meeting at a public facility is not open to the public. The meeting is scheduled from 7:30-9:30 p.m. at the East Cobb Government Service Center (4400 Lower Roswell Road).East Cobb Alliance logo

The purpose of the meeting is to help formulate questions and responses before two cityhood-related events next week.

The Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb is holding a town hall on Monday at Wheeler High School, and next Tuesday, the cityhood group and the East Cobb Alliance will appear at a forum organized by the East Cobb Business Association.

The e-mail urged recipients not to post the meeting notice on Nextdoor or to forward the message, because “we do not want the press or the media or the pro-cityhood people to see what we’re up to. Nothing nefarious, mind you, but we’re trying to serve our members of ECA to help with planning and execution of our team strategy with as little interference as possible.”

When East Cobb News asked Bill Simon, a leader of the East Cobb Alliance, why the meeting isn’t open to the public, he said that it’s “because it’s a private meeting, paid for by private funds.”

(The cost to reserve the meeting room at the East Cobb Government Service Center is $25, the standard fee for any group wishing to meet there. The room has a capacity of 85 people.)

The East Cobb Alliance, which was formed this summer, has been critical of the Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb for what it calls a lack of transparency. The proposed City of East Cobb, according to the Alliance, “is a concept secretly planned by a small group of people for nearly a year before there was public notice of it. Since this group is being rather secretive about several things regarding the PCEC (including their professional backgrounds & why they might be involved), ECA has a page dedicated to exposing (via public records) who is who, and what does who do.”

(East Cobb News last year published stories along similar lines, including the resignation of a citizen from a cityhood ad hoc committee because he was told “it’s none of anyone’s business” who’s all behind the cityhood effort.

While some private, closed groups on Facebook do appear in search results, Residents Against East Cobb City Task Force is completely hidden.

In the e-mail, the message stated that “if you are on Facebook, there is a Closed FB Group that, upon you answering the two entry questions, you will be allowed to join: Residents Against East Cobb City Task Force Group. If the questions are ignored, you cannot gain entry.”

The East Cobb Alliance does have a public Facebook page that updates with links and financial analysis of proposed city services but does not include information about the group’s innerworkings.

In a followup response to an East Cobb News request to attend the meeting, Simon said he would “politely decline your request. . . . There is a stated maximum room limit of the number of people who can attend, thus the reason why it is specifically NOT a public meeting accessible to the public, regardless of the subject matter we are discussing. . .

“Also, if you feel you have some First Amendment right on your side to crash this event, and you appear there on Thursday, just be aware of the potential consequences to your reputation if you are proven wrong.”

Related coverage

 

Get Our Free E-Mail Newsletter!

Every Sunday we round up the week’s top headlines and preview the upcoming week in the East Cobb News Digest. Click here to sign up, and you’re good to go!

%d bloggers like this: