New year, same problems for Cobb BOC as conflicts escalate over Cupid Map
For many Cobb County government watchers, the first meeting of the new year for the Board of Commissioners started like a chaotic circus instead of a meeting of the county’s governing body. Chairwoman Lisa Cupid, serving as ringmaster, had two of the Commissioners removed by the threat of force – yes, police force – from the dais.
The back story is this. As the meeting started, an inquiry was made by Commissioner JoAnn Birrell regarding which map the commission intended to use. She was advised that they would use the county-drawn map (aka Cupid Map) versus the map approved by the legislature in 2022.
Using the county-approved map would allow Commissioner Jerica Richardson to remain in her post and continue to vote. Birrell and Commissioner Keli Gambrill balked and said they would not cast votes if they used the Cupid map, pointing to the county being at odds with the state government over its effort to redistrict itself via its home rule powers. They were referencing Cupid’s use of home rule to draw and approve her own map, bypassing the state.
If left unchallenged, many fear that other communities around the state could become dissatisfied with decisions by the legislature and use home rule to chart their own path contrary to state law. For many, the issue at hand is the constitutionality of the county’s unprecedented move of changing redistricting maps, but Cupids’ move of removing two Commissioners compounds the issues.
Some in the community said Cupid is willing to fight for the right for Richardson to be on the dais but not for the two Commissioners she summarily removed. They also pointed out that by removing these commissioners, Cupid disenfranchised and hurt the people of the districts that these commissioners serve.
Many in the community have voiced issues with Cupid using ‘home rule’ to fix a map issue to keep a commissioner on the board but refusing to use these same powers to address homelessness or protect families being displaced by ruthless landlords.
Commissioners Birrell and Gambrell’s questioning of the constitutionality of the Cupid map clearly angered Cupid. County officials, who many said Cupid controls through heavy-handed threats, argued that the home rule statute gave them the authority to change the map, but the two commissioners were not buying their opinion. Birrell and Gambrill have complained that the county attorney’s office has refused to make an inquiry with the Georgia Attorney General’s office.
Seeing no impasse, Cupid called the first of two separate recesses so that the board could go into executive session to discuss the matter. Upon their return, Deputy County Attorney Debbie Blair announced that Board rules require that commissioners cast votes on agenda items unless they have a conflict of interest. Birrell stated her conflict related to the use of the county map versus the state map. Not satisfied with this explanation of her conflict, Cupid called for the second recess. Upon their return, matters took on a new turn as Cupid demanded that Commissioners Gambrill and Birrell vote or leave the dais. When the two refused to leave, Cupid threatened them with being physically removed and then directed police officers present in the room to remove the two commissioners. Upon being approached by law enforcement, the two elected commissioners left the dais, but not the meeting, electing to sit in the audience.
After removing the two commissioners, Cupid pretended that nothing had happened as she and the remaining commissioners continued the meeting without those she had removed. Cupid directed the clerk to mark the commissioners she removed from the dais absent as they sat a few feet away from her. Some say this was an illegal and unethical act on the part of Cupid, but having no one to challenge her actions, the staff did as they were told.
Following the meeting, Birrell addressed her position saying, “I voted against that map three times last year, and I can’t — I have to uphold the constitution of the state.”
Gambrill said, “Commissioner Birrell tried to broach the subject to get a resolution, and the chair shut her down from that. So essentially, she blocked us from being able to have our concerns heard, which are also the concerns of many in the county.”
Before adjourning the meeting Cupid offered a paltry retort saying, “It is my desire to have every voice of the commission represented at every meeting to the best extent possible, and I would like to see our full board represented here at our next meeting. But when we come together at our next meeting, we will be abiding by our rules and procedures.”
Many republican legislators in the Cobb Delegation have called Cupid’s actions in using her own map and removing other elected members of that body blatantly unlawful; they expressed concern and hope the AG office will get involved.
State Rep. Sharon Cooper told the MDJ that she is waiting for the AG to step in to resolve the matter in Cobb because of the concerns expressed by many who are frustrated in feeling not represented on the commission after Cupid ordered Birrell and Gambrill off the dais.
Calling the actions by Cupid unlawful, Rep. Cooper went on to say “The law is clear that home rule does not apply to redistricting.” Former Cobb GOP chair Jason Shepherd offered a legal opinion that even if the state map is upheld in court, Richardson should be able to serve out the term’s remainder.
For many, questions remain regarding the Republican Legislature’s actions of drawing Democrat Commissioner Richardson in the same district as Birrell. They support Richardsons’s legal fight to remain in office but say the buck stops with ‘booting commissioners off the dais’ and suggests Cupid use the leadership skills she is always touting she possesses to find another way to handle this matter. They suggest her first action should be working with the state, not against it.
Through his spokesperson Kara Richardson, Attorney General Chris Carr provided a statement to the media that said, “It is the opinion of the Georgia Department of Law that the action taken by the Cobb Commission to pass an alternate map was inappropriate and not legally binding. As we have explained repeatedly to interested parties, Georgia law does not grant our Department the authority to initiate a lawsuit in the current situation. We will, however, not hesitate to engage when and where appropriate should a lawsuit be filed by the right party.”
Before adjoining her chaotic BOC meeting, Cupid added, “I cannot allow for this board to be a circus for people to share differences of opinion that are completely outside of our rules of procedure. I hope that the public understands that and I hope our commissioners understand that.”
For many, Cupid’s comments are too little too late as the board has become a circus under her leadership.