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Chairman Faces Tough Crowd at District 2 Town Hall Meeting

Wednesday's town hall meeting at the Smyrna Community Center was Tim Lee's first District 2 town hall as chairman.

Cobb County Chairman Tim Lee got a mixed welcome at his first District 2 town hall meeting Wednesday at the . Several citizens asked him pointed questions about the county’s relationship with city government, the Georgia Development Authority and the .

The first pitch from the audience was no softball. One Smyrna resident asked Lee to name the three most pressing issues facing Smyrna. Lee started to explain that the county and the city work together to make sure there are no service duplications and that city and county staff have the resources they need. The man who posed the question said he was disappointed Lee did not have a more specific answer.

“As County Commissioner Chair you should know at least your major cities in Cobb County, and we’re one of them, and what our problems and issues are,” he said. “For me that you don’t know, I’m sorry, but that doesn’t give me much opinion of you that you don’t know what our issues are.”

Lee replied that Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon had asked Lee’s opinion about the city’s purchase of an apartment complex and the possible location of the new elementary school. He also said that county officials cooperated with the city of Smyrna to .  

“These are independent cities with independent budgets and independent leadership,” he said. “I can’t begin to come in and ask them what they’ve been working on and try to guide them. All I can do is offer my assistance when asked, meet with them on a regular basis to keep the relationship strong and when asked for assistance or when I see something that they may not see I bring it up to them. That I believe is my role.”

Lee was also asked about new policies and guidelines the Commissioners had implemented regarding economic incentives and the county’s relationship with the Georgia Development Authority. Lee explained that the question was based on misinformation because he hadn’t adopted any new policies, but instead clarified existing ones.

“I didn’t implement a new policy,” he said. “I codified and wrote down the existing policy so that everybody involved--the development authority, my commissioners, my staff, the tax assessors--everyone now knows the process, procedures, approval. Everything makes sense.”

Lee said that when a business seeks economic incentives, a proposal is given to the county’s economic development office. Staff analyze the proposal based on the number of jobs created, the quality of jobs, salaries and the company’s proposed investments in the community. Economic development staff make a recommendation and the proposal then goes to the county manager. The county manager passes it on to the Chairman and if approved the proposal is then passed on to the state development authority.

“What I just explained to you is no different than how it was done last year or two years ago or three years ago it just never was put into writing,” Lee said. “I felt it was important to put the whole thing in writing. And in some instances the development authority wasn’t provided with our financial analysis. I felt it was important that they have it so I made it part of the process that they will get that information.”

A woman who identified herself as a former member of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce asked Lee about the county’s relationship to the organization.

“Who is the economic driver of Cobb County?” she said. “If I don’t have confidence in the government of Cobb County then I’m gone.”

Lee replied that in terms of businesses the Cobb County Chamber is one of the largest in the Southeast and that it’s one of the nation’s only accredited Chambers of Commerce. For these reasons he said he values input from the organization, but emphasized that the two work independently of each other.

“Businesses appreciate the same things you do; low taxes, low cost, low regulatory policies, low cost of doing business,” he said “They appreciate that as much as you do as a homeowner. And I think they stay here and invest in our community because we have a well-balanced place to live, work grow a family. We work well, but we do not defer our decisions. We know our responsibilities and they know their areas of influence and effectiveness. We collaborate on a lot of things, but when it comes to making decisions we make decisions that we need to make.”

Eventually the conversation turned to budget cuts. Lee was asked if the county will consider further cuts to services like libraries and recreation centers and when services will be fully restored. Lee said that in light of the possibility that the digest will decrease again this year further cuts to county services aren’t off the table and that it will be some time before services are fully restored.

“We’ve done a lot of things to get us in a position where we look strong in our sustainable financial, however that’s based on the model carrying forward the operating cuts and the service cuts that we implemented last year,” he said. “For us to restore costs money. Right now the money we see as it relates not only to revenue sources, but property taxes those aren’t going to move. In fact we anticipate another decline this year and we don’t anticipate a real upward swing till next year. So I’m trying to figure out how to develop an organization that can exist in the existing economy without adding additional costs.”

Wednesday's town hall meeting was the second of four that Lee has planned this year. Lee will hold another meeting April 10 at 7 p.m. at the Mountian View Community Center in Marietta and another on May 14 at the Lions Club Drive Community Center in Mableton at 7 p.m. Ron Fennel, Ward 7 Smyrna City Councilman; Susan Wilkinson, Ward 5 Smyrna City Councilwoman; and Bob Ott, Cobb County's District 2 Commissioner, were in attendance at Wednesday's town hall. Smyrna-Vinings Patch will have more coverage from the District 2 town hall meeting Friday.

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