Is Chair Lisa Cupid holding “Secret Meetings” in Cobb?
Citizens instinctively place trust in their elected officials, sometimes blindly, and other times, with a great deal of prudence. Transparency is an essential element in that trust and is among the things citizens count on from elected officials the most. It gives the public a sense of comfort in knowing that their government is operating with both hands above the table relative to decisions that are being made for the good of the people and the county.
When it comes to governing, certain rules, regulations, polices, and practices are in place to ensure effective management. When that trust is broken, manipulated, or misused, citizens will not accept such betrayal lying down. So is the case of Cobb Chair Lisa Cupid and her Secret Meetings. When it comes to Cobb government, it appears that lines are being blurred. If rumors are true that are coming into the SPOTLIGHT Tip Line almost daily, Lisa Cupid has a lot of explaining to do to the constituents of Cobb County who expect transparency in the governing of our county.
Cupid ran for Chair under a platform of bringing all of Cobb together, which voters bought into. She soon abandoned this platform once she got elected. Many say she sold unsuspecting voters a bill of goods in her plans for Cobb. Others say Cupid is creating a new world order under the noses of the constituents, which is not sitting well with most. They accuse Cupid of holding secret meetings on Cobb government and repeatedly violating what she was sworn to uphold, the law.
When it comes to open meeting laws, also called sunshine laws, the rules are pretty clear. This law requires that meetings be open to the public, along with decisions and records. Allegations are being made that Cupid and others have been violating Georgia’s open meeting act and public records laws by holding secret meetings outside of the public view. If true, there goes another Cupid campaign promise down the drain…her commitment to transparency in Cobb government.
Most statutes require elected officials to meet and deliberate in public, which protects and ensures the public’s right to access to the internal workings of government at all levels. Tips to SPOTLIGHT accuses Cupid and her administration with repeatedly abusing these laws.
What has been shared is that Cupid has allegedly created a secret pseudo government where she is holding clandestine meetings in nondisclosed locations with some commission members, along with other elected officials behind the backs of every citizen in Cobb. They come together to discuss the business of the county, advise Cupid on issues, and make decisions on county matters outside of the purview of the public. Tipsters say Cupid uses her secret meetings to conduct “pre-vote” discussions and decisions among chosen members of the commission, while leaving others out of the conversations. She and others would later attend work sessions and full meetings of the commission and pretend issues were coming before them for the first time, unbeknownst to the public. These secret meetings allow Cupid and others to reach consensus outside of public debate and before a formal vote is taken with the full commission. When the public hears the discussions for the first time, what they do not know is that decisions Cupid is voting on were already decided upon long before the group came back together to put on their cinema worthy performances. It has also been brought to our attention that Cupid is secretly trying to change the form of Cobb County government.
In researching this matter, we came across an analysis provided by the Washington state appeals court on a decision in Wood v. Battle Ground School District (2001). It specifies that regardless of the setting, a meeting is defined by the intent and substance of the communication among public officials. If that intent is to discuss information and views or influence public business or policy, the communication becomes a meeting under the law and the provisions of the open meeting law apply.
Said one government watcher when told about Cupid’s alleged actions, “If true, she has created a hole in government big enough to drive a truck through. How can we trust government now under this cloud she has created?’ Others say that secret meetings give Cupid an advantage because she is incapable of leading the full commission or governing in front of citizens without her flaws making an appearance. Others define her secret meetings as cheating the public. For the public to adequately assess what Cobb government is doing, it needs as much transparency as possible. Transparency not only guards against corruption and the undue influence of powerful special interests, but it also allows the public a greater opportunity to participate and provide its elected representatives with better ideas before they vote on an issue.
One such issue in question raised its head this week when one of the commissioners had a slip of the tongue during a town hall meeting. She shared that there is a land deal in the works to try to mitigate the damages from the controversial vote taken on property near Dobbins. The decision weeks ago by Cupid and others to allow a developer to build near the Air Force Base landing site left many in the community angry with Cupid for placing Dobbins and Lockheed in danger. Another issue is Cupid placing into the budget the hiring of a Diversity and Inclusion Officer, which was not discussed prior to her placing it in the budget that she is asking others to pass.
Another issue raised this week is Cupid’s utilization of Cobb Police Officers as her private bodyguard’s. This information came as a shock as it was only a few years ago that Cupid was demanding to have the police defunded. Who is paying for two officers to guard her? What is the cost to taxpayers? Has she been threatened in some way? Is this the best use of the police force’s time and energy?
SPOTLIGHT wants to know if all the commissioners and staff knew of this secret land deal or was this something discussed during one of Cupid’s secret meetings? The MDJ first reported on this issue but did not go into details. Our community wants to know what land is being considered as a swap, said one citizen? Do we as taxpayers have a right to know? Why can’t Cupid step to the plate, say she made a mistake on Dobbins, and correct that mistake by moving to reconsider their irresponsible vote?
For the record, commissioners are allowed to invoke the usage of executive session meetings, which are normally closed, but the public is made aware of it. These meetings are devoted to such things as personnel issues, ongoing investigations, collective bargaining, conferences with agency attorneys, and the acquisition or sale of public property.
Citizens of Cobb are left wondering what is the purpose of Cupid’s Secret Meetings and who is involved in them? Was the land swap handled in executive session or was this done at one of Cupid’s Secret Meetings? All of this violates the spirit and the letter of the law that protects the right of citizens to know what their government is doing.
We all have attended social gatherings, which are not considered meetings. What we have learned is that Cupid’s Secret Meetings are not social gatherings, but meetings to discuss county business which were not open to the public. There are no records that Cupid’s administration has given any public notice for her secret meetings, or allowed public access, as required by law. There are no records of Cupid and her staff making any attempts to document or record the secret meetings it held with other lawmakers.
As an Attorney, Cupid should be well versed in these laws and should know better. All governments – local, state and federal – should obey the rules on transparency, so any elected official attending those meetings should also know better and must be held accountable. If these allegations are true, Cupid, her administration, and other elected officials who participated in these secret meetings should be investigated and fined appropriately for these shameful violations.
Most citizens we talked to believe a pattern of unnoticed and undocumented meetings of elected official is very troubling. It supports claims that Cupid is creating a pseudo government behind the backs of the actual government of Cobb, which is highly suspect and illegal based on the laws on the books. Many in the South Cobb community were taken aback. One such citizen said, “Shame on Cupid for holding secret meetings. This is a deliberate attempt on her part to subvert public access to what is actually going on in our county. To criticize or support a government policy effectively, citizens must be informed of the reasons for that policy.”
Cupid’s missteps started early on in her role as chair when she failed to disclose information at the beginning of the year about her husband when voting for funding for an organization that engaged him. They say these secret meetings have turned a speck into a boulder and are outraged with her arrogance.
Many hoped that Cupid’s tenure would include responsive and responsible government. We do not know how the secret meetings fit into her plans in governing Cobb, but they are troubling. Many warned of Cupids’ propensity to hold grudges. Are we seeing that manifest itself and play out in our county government? Yes, say people we talked to. It appears that if they do not bow down to Cupid, they are left out of the loop on information, such as the land swap deal. When Cupid holds her secret meetings, she is disenfranchising the citizens of Cobb.
Citizens are concerned with transparency in county government, but they are also concerned with being disenfranchised by the people that were elect to represent us. Cupid’s Secret Meetings, if true, should be investigated by the proper authorities.
SPOTLIGHT will do its job to keep you informed. Look for our next government story, Tim Lee 2.0, where we examine how Chair Cupid is taking on the very qualities and disposition in governing Cobb that she denounced and criticized in the former Cobb Chair, the late Tim Lee.