MARIETTA — Cityhood for east Cobb dominated the discussion between commissioners and legislators at local lawmakers’ annual pre-legislative session meeting Thursday morning at Jim Miller Park.
Each December, the Cobb Legislative Delegation holds a meeting to field requests from county officials, including the Board of Commissioners and school district superintendents.
The issue of cityhood was raised by Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, who called it her “burning question” and sought clarity from those who will ultimately decide whether residents of the proposed city will be given a referendum on cityhood.
The answer, nearly unanimous from the nine lawmakers present during the discussion, was: We don’t know anything.
“There is so much confusion at this point in time, it’s too early in the game for any of us to say anything definitive about it because we don’t know much definitively about this,” said Rep. Teri Anulewicz, D-Smyrna.
Communities can incorporate as cities via referendum with the General Assembly’s approval.
In April, state Rep. Matt Dollar, R-east Cobb, filed a bill that would put a cityhood referendum before residents of the proposed city sometime next year. It details the language of the ballot, the boundaries of the proposed city and the services it would provide.
Dollar wasn’t at the meeting Thursday, and did not immediately return a call to his office.
County Chairman Mike Boyce, citing media reports, called the proposed city’s services and boundaries a “moving target” and asked whether the bill Dollar filed is the one that might ultimately be approved by the General Assembly.
“Most legislators, if they have any major changes they’re going to make to any bill, they would put in a substitute before the process of committees start,” said Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-east Cobb. “So I would think that if Representative Dollar has a map that is substantially different from the one that was put in last year that he would have a substitute bill that he would have to give to the committee and that you should be able to get a hold of before the committee meets to see what changes he is proposing ahead of time.”
At a town hall in November, members of pro-cityhood organization Committee for Cityhood in East Cobb unveiled an updated map of the proposed city. The new map included the attendance zones of Lassiter and Pope high schools, significantly expanding the city’s boundaries.
The group has since declined to provide a copy of the map it shared at the town hall. Group representative David Birdwell said the group would release “an official map with this potential expanded area when received from the state.”
State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, R-east Cobb, said she had asked staff at the Capitol for the map but was told one is not available “at this time.”
One of the lawmakers asked Boyce whether the Board of Commissioners would take an official position on cityhood for east Cobb.
Although Boyce, Birrell and Commissioner Keli Gambrill have come out against cityhood, Boyce called cityhood a “moving target” and said the board should not consider taking an official stance until details have been finalized.
“Rather than comment on any specifics, you have to wait for specifics,” he said. “Over time, the nature of what it is they’re requiring, what they’re asking for, has been changing.”
According to Cooper, Dollar should have a substitute bill ready if he’s made big changes before the House Governmental Affairs Committee considers his bill. The committee will have to approve the bill before the entire General Assembly can vote on it.
State Rep. Don Parsons, R-north Cobb, said such bills get out of committee “fairly easily.” But the General Assembly at large would be hard-pressed to vote for it if they sense there is “substantial opposition from that community” or from the lawmakers or commissioners who represent the community.
“If you oppose cityhood for east Cobb — or if you support it, either way, if you oppose it, you definitely need to make your voices heard,” Parsons advised.
If approved by the General Assembly, “I would say most likely it would probably pass (a referendum),” Parsons continued, “because it’s got another question there too in addition to just the cityhood.”
According to the bill Dollar filed, the ballot language would be similar to that of other recent cityhood referendums:
“Shall the Act incorporating the City of East Cobb in Cobb County, imposing term limits and prohibiting conflicts of interest be approved?”