by Bill Simon
The Cobb County Commission Officially Reverts To A Negative Mean
I remember taking a stock analysis course once where we were introduced to the “Mean Reversion Theorem” for how stock pricing works. The theory’s premise holds that eventually, all stock prices revert back to their natural “mean” (“mean” being a synonym for the “average”) position of existence. And, on occasion, when some extraordinary event occured, the price might jump-up or down, and then, perhaps, find a new, “higher mean” or a “lower mean.”
If you were to look at any political body (e.g., a county commission or a city council or a state’s legislature, etc.) in comparison to any other political body at that same level of government, there would be a sort of mean that could likely be established in terms of the effectiveness of each government to be used to compare itself to other government bodies at that same level.
Cobb County used to be one of the most consistently well-run government bodies that its inhabitants could count on to always be operating far above the mean of all other county commissions, either in the metro-Atlanta area, the state, or even, perhaps, the country.
Not anymore. After Tuesday’s commission meeting, anyone who has been any kind of observer of this county’s government is a witness to a commission falling far below the mean.
The Run-Up To The 4/12/2011 Meeting
Shortly after the March 15 Cobb County SPLOST vote passed, Commission Chairman Tim Lee revealed a massive $31,000,000 hole in the county’s operating budget. A $31,000,000 hole that he kept far out of range of view during the debate on the SPLOST because he knew the truth would kill the chances of the SPLOST’s passage.
The passage of the March 15 SPLOST referendum cannot help fill-in this $31,000,000 hole. The SPLOST money will be used to actually create a bigger hole in the future when/if the money is used to build new facilities, but I digress (for the moment).
So…what did the previously-always-a-hawk District 1 Commissioner Helen Goreham first offer as a solution to fill the $31 million gap? Raise millage rates.
Now, I expected this from Tim Lee who is clearly more in love with ensuring that the Cobb government size, cost and inefficiency remains untouched, and the taxpayers continue to get screwed, but…I was taken quite aback when I read Goreham’s comments. This, to me, was the first sign of the county’s reversion to a negative position in its valuation.
In the AJC article published on April 8, I read about Tim Lee’s proposal to aim to cut 3.5% of the county’s budget, and close two pools, two senior citizen centers, and close all but 4 libraries. Wow. Clever lad (not!) that Tim Lee is.
District 2 Commissioner Bob Ott’s response to Lee’s proposal was: “…I have a hard time understanding why District 2 will have no libraries, senior centers or pools whereas each of the citizens of the other districts will have at least [one of each]…I don’t think it’s right for the citizens of District 2 as they pay the same taxes as everyone else.”
Also from the same AJC article was this bit from Tim Lee: “A secondary baseline proposal, Lee deemed “implausible” would be more extreme with no millage increase, but severe cuts in the library system, along with several parks and recreation facilities that would be closed.”
“Implausible,” eh? Not to anyone who is a conservative. And, yes, Tim Lee is no conservative…not by any stretch (but, I digress).
On the night of April 11, the AJC published another story concerning Tim Lee’s proposal that had quotes from the county’s residents. One was from Mary Lou Padgett (no, I do not know who she is): “I think cutting libraries is advertising that Cobb is backwards; we’re cutting off the future…It seems there is political maneuvering that is not on the up and up, but I don’t think a possible push for a tax increase is likely to work twice in less than a month.”
Earlier in that article, Tim Lee said he was “surprised” at the outpouring of support for the libraries from people not wanting them closed. “Surprised,” eh? That’s the sign of someone who is SO out of touch with the county that he supposedly represents that it’s not even funny (and, I have a wide-ranging sense of humor).
All of this leads us to…
The 4/12/2011 Cobb County Commission Meeting
There were several items on the agenda for this meeting: 1) The discussion of how to handle the $31,000,000 budget hole, and 2) each commissioner’s appointments to a “Citizens Oversight Committee” which was something Tim Lee agreed to set-up at the request of other commissioners a couple of months back (December, maybe?).
Since Tim Lee’s first proposal to shutter most of the county’s libraries, the county commission had received 7,000 e-mails sent in protest of any plan to close those libraries. (Apparently, literacy is not an issue that needs to be promoted in Cobb County.)
What was voted on by a vote of 4 to 1 in favor was the plan that Commissioner Ott had been proposing in his town hall meetings: No millage rate increases, no library closings, a 10% across the board cut required in all departments, closing two senior centers, and using about $4.6 million from the county’s reserve fund to plug some of the operating cash flow hole.
Who was the lone dissenter? Commission Chair Tim Lee? Nope! Commissioner Helen Goreham. You know, the commissioner who wanted to push millage rate increases immediately after learning about the $31,000,000 budget deficit. And, push those millage rate increases immediately after she knew that the arguments being pushed in favor of the recently passed SPLOST were “if you citizens don’t pass this, we will have to raise your property taxes…better do what we say or else we will raise your propoerty taxes…” kind of persuasion to promote the SPLOST renewal.
On the budget vote afterwards, Goreham said her concern was using reserve fund to plug a budget hole. Specifically, these were her words: “When we have to go into reserves as one of our measures, it has me very worried. We have to come up with an immediate plan for how we’re going to pay back those reserves. If this was our last resort for finding millions of dollars we don’t have, what will we use to pay that back?“
Gee…Golly…here’s a question: Why is there a “reserve fund,” exactly? Is it for money for a rainy day? Or, does Commissioner Goreham merely think all county revenue should always come from the citizens, and any excess over the years (i.e., the reserve fund) is the county’s money to keep forever?
THEN…after the budget vote, the meeting turned to the real place for fireworks to occur: What was normally a formal process whereby each commissioner offered-up their two appointees to serve on the Oversight Committee, and all the other commissioners voted to approve as a courtesy to each other’s picks, well, that didn’t quite happen that way for Commissioner Ott’s picks.
His two picks (which he had announced to the other commissioners on March 25th) were: Bob Barr and Thea Powell. Thea Powell had most recently served as a District 3 commissioner to fill-in a time gap of 4.5 months between Tim Lee’s departure and JoAnn Birrell’s arrival after the July 2010 Primary.
And, which one of these two choices do you think three of the other commissioners had a problem with? Bob Barr? Nope! Thea Powell. And, this was the first time ever that a commissioner’s appointees were voted down. Voted…DOWN.
As Ott said in this MDJ article: “Neither [Helen nor JoAnne] one had the decency to come and talk to me first, to express any concerns they had. It’s not like it was a surprise appointment; it’s been out there for weeks, and she’s attended all of the meetings. I probably have more of a problem that they didn’t come to me to say they have a problem, because they’re entitled to have an opinion and I respect that, but clearly, they have a lack of respect for me.”
And…what was Helen Goreham’s reasoning for objecting to Thea Powell? “This committee is supposed to be a representation of the public, removed from the Board of Commissioners, and we’re to be removed so that we can get an objective viewpoint of what the community wants…And she was involved in the process in the 2011 budget. I have a problem with whether or not there’s going to be objectivity with her on the committee.”
Huh. So, Thea Powell is not representative of the public? She cannot serve “objectively,” eh, Commissioner Goreham? Really now, how much influence could she possibly have had on the budget in her 4.5 months of service?
She served pretty objectively when she took Tim Lee’s place. Heck, she did a LOT better than Tim in 4.5 months than Tim Lee had done in ANY of the last 4 years in that position!
Goreham made some absurd comment regarding her not wishing Powell to serve in case Powell had any plans to run in 2012 for commission chairman. This, despite the fact that Powell has never indicated she wanted to do anything else but serve the community as an appointee, whether to the commission, or to this oversight committee.
Here’s my theory on why Helen Goreham does not feel Thea Powell would be serving as an “objective” member of the Board: 1) Thea actually knows how to read a county budget and would be easily able to recognize manure when she hears it from Hankerson or anyone else who knows how to spin manure on a daily basis, and Goreham certainly doesn’t want anyone on that committee to be knowledgeable…anyone who cannot be manipulated…that would be awful…and 2) I think Goreham is going to make a run for commission chairman in 2012 and she sees Powell as a potential threat to her candidacy.
Goreham’s answer of “not at this time” to the question of whether or not she’s running for 2012 commission chairman…really, Helen? “Not at this time?” Sounds like you’re playing politics at the expense of us taxpayers, Helen.
Do you folks know what “playing politics” means? It means that the reason why someone voted a certain way was due to someone’s own selfish reasons…selfish reasons far beyond any realm of making decisions based on sound logic and reasoning to represent their district.
Kudos to Helen Goreham [insert sarcasm here] for demonstrating that now we can safely conclude that she is no better a commissioner than Tim Lee…and, Tim Lee downright sucks as ANY kind of “Republican” elected official.
The only individual on that commission that we have as a conservative Republican is Bob Ott. He is the only Republican who is truly working to represent the citizens.
Had it not been for Ott’s presence in that meeting on Tuesday, it is likely that Tim Lee and Helen Goreham could have gotten Birrell and Thompson to go along with Tim Lee’s plan to close libraries and raise millage rates.
And, as such, Ott is the only one who is likely in most need of seeing evidence that anyone in the county who is appalled at Tim Lee’s “leadership” (sic), and Goreham’s and Birrell’s lack thereof in a leadership role, actually supports him and his conservative approach to county government.
If you support Bob Ott (and, you don’t have to live in his district to be able to recognize his efforts on behalf of the whole county) and want to see him continue to fight for the taxpaying residents of this county, I suggest you write letters to the editor of both the AJC and the MDJ to express your support of him and his conservative stances to support your love of libraries and less property taxes.
Heck, make sure you carbon-copy the entire commission to rub Tim Lee’s, Helen Goreham’s, and JoAnne Birrell’s noses in it.
Of course, if all you care about is watching this county lurch further into quicksand, sit on your hands, do nothing, and watch this county become exactly like DeKalb County. Because, that is where it is headed with Lee, Goreham, and Birrell involved.