Ben Williams

Ben Williams

Cobb commissioners narrowly approved a resolution creating the Cobb County Council for Justice, Peace and Reconciliation, a body empowered to “identify opportunities across a broad spectrum to assist in the education and mitigation of systemic, institutional, and structural racism.”

Tuesday’s vote was 3-2, with commissioners Lisa Cupid and Keli Gambrill in opposition.

The bylaws and charter of the council will come before the Board of Commissioners for final approval in January.

In an interview before Tuesday’s meeting, Republican Cobb Chair Mike Boyce said formation of the council would show county residents who marched against racial injustice that their government has heard their concerns and is sincere in wanting to address them.

Mike Boyce Official Photo MUG

Mike Boyce

But Cupid, the board’s lone African American, Democrat — and Boyce’s opponent in the Nov. 3 election — questioned the sincerity of her colleagues who supported the resolution.

At the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, Ben Williams, president of the Cobb chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said he was encouraged by the language of the resolution, which was “clear, strong and resolute, and reflecting where the board is.”

“I’m not convinced of that,” Cupid later said.

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Lisa Cupid

Citing the board’s opposition this month to a rental assistance program she drafted, Cupid said it was “very difficult to digest this with any seriousness, because it didn’t seem to reflect the sincere interest of the board and their recognition that their behavior sometimes subverts the goals of which they espouse when it comes to reaching out to community, connecting with community, serving the community, caring for the community.”

Cupid’s rental assistance program failed 3-2; a similar program was approved at that same meeting in a 4-1 vote.

Cupid also said the resolution had been rushed; the board did not organize any public hearings at which it could solicit resident feedback, she said, and the resolution had been placed on the board’s consent agenda — from which she asked that it be removed — a place for proposals on which “there is an overall sense of agreement.”

“I know in my heart that I support this in spirit,” Cupid said, but “it’s hard to support it in the context ... I’m sharing.”

Commissioners JoAnn Birrell, of north Cobb, and Bob Ott, of east Cobb, pushed back on Cupid’s criticism.

Birrell said commissioners had been given drafts of the resolution, charter and bylaws weeks ago.

“To say we haven’t seen this or given input on this the past several weeks — we have,” she said.

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JoAnn Birrell

Ott chafed at the suggestion the board was not sincere in addressing racial disparities in the county.

Speaking after the meeting, Ott pointed out the board did in fact pass a rental assistance program — “just not the one she wanted,” he said.

“We can’t just sit back as Rome burns,” the retiring commissioner said during Tuesday’s meeting. “We don’t need our community to be burning, we need our community to be understanding each other and getting along. Is this perfect? No. ... We don’t always get our way, we don’t always get everything we want in an agenda item or resolution, or any of the other things this board passes.”

Bob Ott

Bob Ott

Gambrill, who also opposed the resolution, said she agreed with some of the points Cupid made, among them the fact the board never organized meetings at which the resolution could have been subjected to public scrutiny.

“This resolution is not presented to help Cobb County Government internally,” she added, but it “seems to be focused on Cobb County government establishing a group who will decide what the values and morals should be for those within Cobb County.”

Keli Gambrill

Keli Gambrill

According to the text of the resolution, the council would have 15 members. Five would be appointed by the members of the county’s governing board. Another five would represent prominent organizations in the county: the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, the local chapters of the NAACP and SCLC, Kennesaw State University and the county bar association. The final five would be appointed by “the existing (council) members.”

The council will be required to meet at least 10 times per year, according to county documents, and “and encourage organizational and community partnerships through conferences, workshops, and special events.”

Its members would serve two-year terms, with the exception of those appointed directly by the board, who would serve four-year terms.

Two members of the Cobb SCLC, who helped draft the resolution, lauded the board for bringing it forward for a vote.

Pax Riddle, coordinator of public advocacy at the Cobb SCLC, said Cobb “has once again shown that we prefer to be leaders in the state and not followers.”

Williams said the resolution was an “important second step to make actionable the courageous resolution you all signed onto June 9 of this year” — a reference to an anti-racism resolution the board passed in the wake of nationwide protests over racial injustice and police brutality.

Ott said he had been on the receiving end of many a lecture from Williams on what the board was doing wrong.

“It is rewarding and refreshing to finally see that he does think we do something right,” Ott said, smiling.

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