Was Dobbins Air Reserve Base thrown under the bus by Cobb County Commission?
Webster’s dictionary defines ‘unforced error’ as a mistake in play that is attributed to ones’ own failure. This past week in Cobb government has been compared to a bad game of tennis with a collection of unforced errors on the part of Chairwoman Lisa Cupid. The Chair has now placed one of our economic engines, Dobbins Air Reserve Base, in jeopardy, along with Lockheed and Georgia Tech Research Institute campus. Combined, all three have an economic impact of over $5.1 billion on Cobb County and the state of Georgia. Cupid foolishly led a vote on the commission to give a developer and its ‘lawyer’ permission to build a 38-unit condominium complex in Dobbins’ Accident Potential Zone (APZ). This is an area extending southeast from the base’s runway where crashes during takeoff and landing are most likely to occur. The development has been vehemently opposed by Dobbins Air Reserve Base and others.
Instead of taking a step back, Cupid imploded on those who understand the importance of Dobbins to Cobb County when they tried to bring reason to the Chair who is showing she is inept at reason. The Cobb Chamber of Commerce joined Dobbins’ argument against the development, saying the decision to build within that zone could jeopardize the base. Dobbins’ representative Jay Thomas referenced the Department of Defense guidelines that recommend no residential units be built within the APZ and warned that development in the APZ could jeopardize the base’s future during the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process.
Members from Cobb’s Legislative Delegation, Cobb’s Chamber, former Chamber presidents, business leaders and alike have tried to get Cupid to focus on the obvious issues, the protection of Dobbins, as they requested that the Chair and the board reconsider their vote. Now Governor Brian Kemp is weighing in on the issue, as he too understands what Dobbins means to Georgia, not just Cobb County. The MDJ reported that Kemp provided a statement that read: “Given the recent zoning decision may negatively impact Dobbins Air Reserve Base in future Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) processes, and private sector partners like Lockheed Martin, I urge the Cobb County Commission to study this issue further… However, the potential risks of approving a new development within the Accident Potential Zone – without a final determination on the impact on Dobbins, the local community, countless businesses, and our state – are far too high and could have a generational impact on us all.”
Trying to appeal to Cupid’s common sense on the issues has been daunting and exhausting. During a recent commission meeting, Chamber officials pointed to protecting Dobbins, Lockheed, and the thousands of workers who are gainfully employed there. Cupid was not hearing any of that as she antagonistically lashed out at them like a hot knife into butter. Looking down from her dais, Cupid met their concern with a level of contempt that should never be exhibited by the Chair on such important and critical issues for the stability of Cobb. However, there she was, acting like a petulant child instead of the leader of our county government. “I don’t understand why we’re getting this heat after the zoning hearing,” Cupid said, staring down Chamber President Sharon Mason, Chairman John Loud, and COO Dana Johnson, who each spoke earlier in the meeting. Instead of being focused on Cobb’s future and the economic engines for Cobb, Cupid reached back to years gone by to justify her vote – pointing to the Atlanta Braves coming to Cobb and other buildings being erected in the Cumberland area as the problem, instead of realizing that the problem lies in the mirror if she would only take a look. Cupid’s true self was revealed for all of Cobb County to see, and what they saw, many did not like.
Some in the community have wondered who in the world is advising the Chair as these mistakes in judgement are rookie in nature, not what you would expect from someone who had spent nearly a decade in county government and who advertised herself as someone who could work effectively on behalf of Cobb citizens if given the chance to lead. She has been given the chance, but there is no promised leadership here, only finger pointing, which Cupid is known for.
Supporters and critics alike both say they could not have predicted that in the five short months that Cupid has been Chair that she would lose the All-Star Game and haphazardly place Dobbins in jeopardy. Some say the loss of the All-Star game had more to do with state politics and less to do with Cupid, while others say it occurred on her watch, so she gets the blame. They also point to Galt Porter’s abrupt resignation a few weeks ago as Chair of the Planning Commission and suggest that his sudden departure now has new meaning – speculating that Porter may have left after learning that these ‘yes votes’ were on the immediate horizon following the Planning Commission’s vote of 5-0 to deny the developer a permit to build near Dobbins.
Obfuscating from the issue, Cupid claimed that no one from the Planning Commission spoke to her about the vote and no one from the Chamber contacted her to discuss the issues. Not true says Loud and Mason who claimed they both reached out to the Chair. Said Loud, “I think it’s very disheartening. We just had a sit-down meeting with (Cupid), for her to be stating that we’ve not had any discussion on it is just sad.” Cupid’s comments say more about her than any comment we can offer. If your Planning Commission did not speak to you, why didn’t you pick up the phone and call them as you had to have learned that they unanimously voted NO on the development. Why not pick up the phone and call Chamber leaders for a conversation? Why not lead and build coalitions instead of dividing Cobb? Cupid and the rest of her board could take notes from fellow Commissioners Kelly Gambrill and Joann Burrell, who clearly understand the issues and the importance of Dobbins to Cobb and the community as they voted against the efforts. In an email sent to the media last week, Burrell said, “My position has not changed. This is a safety issue and has a negative impact on Dobbins and our partnerships including Lockheed and (Georgia Tech Research Institute).”
As the Emperor walks around with no clothes on, political pundits in Cobb point to what everyone whispered when Cupid ran for the top seat – that she does not know how to lead, she is incapable of building coalitions, and she does not have the right temperament for the top job in Cobb. They point to her single superpower – an ability to hold on to grudges and strike out at those who she believed wronged her in some way when she served as commissioner – a trait the voters were not made aware of but are certainly witnessing now. This is the wrong attitude to have when you are serving a county of over 760, 141 citizens (based on 2019 records).
Racism, Sexism, and Party
As some point to the board being comprised of all women – three black women specifically who are Democrats, they suggest that we should be cautious about offering any critiques on them because of the potential for backlash. If whites make comments, it will be perceived as racially biased. If blacks make comments, it will be perceived as attacking one of our own. If men make comments, it would be perceived as misogynistic. If the left or right makes comments, it will be perceived as politically driven. If every group who wanted to comment on their government were silenced, who would hold elected officials accountable? The honest concerns over Dobbins by people who care about Cobb has nothing to do with racism, sexism, or party affiliation, but everything to do with the desire and demand for sound leadership, common sense decision making, and good government – which are demands of the people of Cobb. We could all be invisible, nongendered independents and our concerns for Dobbins would be the same. Our community should not be silenced because of our demographics when we see incompetency at work. Cupid herself has tried to interlace her conversations on Dobbins with the race and sex of the members. This is again a mistake on Cupid’s part.
Failure in leadership can only be tolerated for so long before it permanently hurts Cobb and its citizens, so Cupid should reject and remove these distractions from the real issue, which is Dobbins, nothing else. As our country goes through a reckoning about race and equal pay for equal work, we understand that there may be times that these topics may come into play, however, this is not one of those times, so refocus your time and energy on the real issues Chair.
The Developer’s Lawyer
An economic engine for Cobb being placed in jeopardy has been the focus of this ongoing debate, but what has evaded everyone in this Dobbins discussion could be the developer’s lawyer, Garvis Sams. Some point to the developer’s lawyer as the ‘unspoken’ reason this project may have received three votes over the unanimous denial of the Planning Commission and Galt Porters resignation.
Sam’s has had his hands full since January as he has been able to rack up easy approval of over a half dozen projects by the Commission since the start of 2021. What is unknown to the public however is that Sams shows up on Cupid’s disclosure report and that of others on the board. Many suggest that this is yet another conflict of interest for Cupid and the Commissioners who voted yes to the development. They say the trio had a duty to the public to declare a conflict and refrain from the vote. Instead, Cupid and the others voted in the affirmative while remaining silent on this fact. Some say they acted as if nothing was wrong and foolishly think the term “pay to play” is a children’s game instead of the name given to politicians who act outside of the ethical boundaries they were sworn to uphold.
Our South Cobb community knows Garvis Sams well as he was the lawyer the community fought when his client, a waste company, was illegally operating a waste and trash dump within 1000 feet of our South Cobb homes, the Chattahoochee River, and Charlie Brown Airport in Fulton County. When the community came out against efforts on Sams’ part to use his influence in Cobb government to obtain a green light to take waste legally and permanently, we mobilized and demanded that the Commissioners vote down Sams and his clients’ request to turn our community into a permanent waste dump.
Like now, there was a threat back then that Sams and the property owner would sue the County if they were not given permission to operate their property how they saw fit – even if it were to the determinant of our quality of life in South Cobb. The County tried to offer our community this jaundiced explanation as they waffled on standing firm against Sams and his client’s demand for a permit to bring waste from other areas to our community. Yes, Sam’s played that “potential lawsuit card” and the community said bring it on as we stood firm that we were entitled to a good
quality of life like everyone else in Cobb. We demanded that the County protect us and continue its denial of the permit, which they did with a 5 to 0 vote.
Sam caved on his threat and the landlord did something different with the property that did not include waste. Sams and his client did not follow through on their threat to sue the County, so the explanation offered by the district Commissioner that she voted in the affirmative because the landowner could come back and sue the county is a red herring. When we were fighting Sams, we pointed to the fact that the County had been sued before and will continue to be sued in the future, but this issue was not one where they could hide behind the threat of a lawsuit and ignore the will of our community. Besides, that is why we pay taxes – for the County to have insurance to deal with issues like this when common sense says they should stand up and fight.
Our South Cobb community came together to challenge a threat to our quality of life and enlisted the help and support of others such as Fulton County who oversees Charlie Brown Airport, the Pilots Association, and the Chattahoochee River Keepers. Working together, we won. The district Commissioner who voted against trash lawyer Sams at that time was Cupid. Many have asked what has changed now that she and others fear a lawsuit from Sams? Some point to the financial support that she and her followers on the board have received from Sam’s, his partners, their law firm, and the people they do business with in the form of campaign contributions. Is this past support dictating affirmative actions on everything Sams brings before Cupid and the board?
Instead of trying to lead the sisterhood of the nod, trying to turn this into a race and sex issue, or allegedly fulfilling promises to campaign contributors, Cupid needs to try leading the entire county and elect to make good decisions instead of those that call her leadership into question as she racks up even more unforced errors in her short time as Chair.
A new conversation on this begins with Cupid taking the lead to revisit this vote on Dobbins. It also calls for her and others to declare their conflicts of interest and recuse themselves when needed on matters when they have accepted money from Sams and his affiliates as well as any others that come before Cobb government. Finally, it requires Cupid to do what she was elected to do, which is to lead and protect the interests of the citizens of Cobb. Protecting the operations of Dobbins is part of that narrative.