New Cobb city proposals gain momentum despite qualms of some leaders

By: - January 28, 2022 1:00 am

East Cobb state Rep. Matt Dollar’s bill to incorporate a section of the county passed the House Thursday. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

More than 140,000 Cobb County residents could soon have new hometowns as a wave of cityhood bills moved forward in the Georgia House Thursday.

A proposed city of East Cobb sponsored by east Cobb Republican state Rep. Matt Dollar passed a House vote 98-63 and is set to head to the Senate. Hours later, bills to create the city of Vinings in south Cobb County and Lost Mountain in west Cobb found favor in a House committee, potentially teeing them up for a vote in the full chamber.

East Cobb would include about 60,000 residents in an area centered along the Johnson Ferry corridor. Vinings would have a population of about 7,000 between I-285 and the Chattahoochee River, and Lost Mountain would include more than 74,000 in its borders between the Paulding County line and Kennesaw Mountain.

If the plans receive full approval and are signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, voters inside the proposed boundaries could decide whether to establish cities as early as the May 24 primary election and elect their first mayors and city council members in November.

For supporters, starting a new city would bring representation closer to the people. Cobb County’s more than 760,000 residents are now represented by four district commissioners and a countywide chair. Local council members would represent far fewer constituents and be better able to address their specific concerns, said state Rep. Ginny Ehrhart, the west Cobb Republican sponsoring the Lost Mountain bill.

“There are a lot of independent thinkers in western Cobb County, and I will tell you, for a lot of them, they are looking for a city model that they believe is close to home and also allows them to have adequate representation,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons that we’re so excited about it.”

One major area in which residents say they want to exercise more local control is development. Cobb County has seen major growth in recent decades, bringing much denser development to parts of the once-sleepy suburbs. Some long-time residents say they fear their communities are at risk of losing their small-town charm.

“This is not a ‘not in my backyard’ kind of effort,” said Scott Johnson, who formerly led the local GOP party and who is a member of the State Board of Education. “As I like to say, I want to be able to go to the RaceTrac and buy my gas locally, I just don’t want to see it from my back deck.”

“There’s an appropriate place for development, and there’s an appropriate place for possibly anything, but our citizens want to be able to have a say, they want local control, but I like to say it more of a determination of our own destiny for our part of Cobb County.”

For a long time, Cobb County was reliably Republican, but growth and urbanization brought a political shift as well, sweeping Democrats into major countywide positions, including Commission Chair Lisa Cupid, who was elected to her role in 2020.

Speaking at a virtual legislative breakfast hosted by the Atlanta Press Club and the Georgia First Amendment Foundation Thursday morning, Cupid expressed concern about whether members of the public have access to all the information about the incorporation plans.

“These initiatives are grassroots driven, and so they can originate in many different forms,” she said. “And there have been questions from citizens as to how information is being shared, because based off of how those who are starting this process decide to meet and share that information, it can cause a lot of variation in what information the public gets. Also, the persons that may be starting this initiative may not necessarily be public leaders. And so just even understanding the larger public interest in knowing how they are making decisions that can impact the larger community, I think has just been a learning process for all of them.”

“There have been some changes that have been shared in the legislative committees that weren’t necessarily shared with the public in their feasibility studies that they shared, so there has been some concern, and reasonably so, from citizens to get that information out,” she added.

Smyrna Democratic state Rep. Teri Anulewicz echoed Cupid’s concerns from the House floor, pointing to what she said were major changes to the East Cobb plan since it passed committee.

Rather than electing six city council members who would choose a mayor from among themselves as previously planned, the current bill calls for voters to elect six council members and a mayor.

“Such a profound change to the city structure happened so quickly and with so little input and evaluation from the public, this bill has been very difficult for the public to follow along with at home, with numerous committee substitutes, all of these changes,” she said.

Anulewicz questioned whether voters would have full knowledge of what they were to vote on in the spring and whether the Cobb County elections office could prepare the new ballots in time.

“Now the election date is set for the May primary not the November general election as it was originally set,” she said. “The proponents have in the bill set the election for a time when, in all likelihood and reality, very few people will turn out to vote to change the lives of more than 60,000 people. People need more than a couple of months of education to learn about how this city would work, whether it would work for them and how it would impact their daily lives.”

Every Democratic member of the Cobb County delegation voted against the East Cobb measure except for Austell state Rep. Erica Thomas, and every Cobb Republican voted yes, save Marietta state Rep. Don Parsons.

Parsons characterized the city as artificial and planned by people who want to run for city council or mayor, and he said he had his own questions about the May referendum.

“This group that has been behind this, they have now had three to four years organizing. They have money. They know how to run a campaign. The people who are opposed to this, they don’t have any of that, with an election in May. They have the resources, the proponents for this have the resources to get this thing through. The people who are opposed and have various problems with it, they’re not organized. So how do you think that’s going to go?”

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Ross Williams
Ross Williams

Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal. His work earned recognition from the Georgia Associated Press Media Editors and the Georgia Press Association, including beat reporting, business writing and non-deadline reporting.