by Paul Paulson
November 04, 2015
Greenspace. Soul food for the spirit. We all need a taste. But in Cobb County, it’s endangered. Back in 2008 when it was learned that over 90 percent of our total acreage had already been knocked down by the blades of development, the people stood up and demanded action. Our Cobb County Board of Commissioners was compliant, agreeing to a ballot initiative asking voters for permission to issue $40 million in general obligation bonds in order to buy land for future parks in perpetuity before it was all gone.
Like the promise of food to a starving population, the idea took off. Regular folks joined the ranks, recruited others, engaged the press, manned phone banks with some even speaking to Sunday school classes early Sunday mornings. On Nov. 4, 2008, 65 percent of Cobb voters gave their blessing to issue the bonds. A mandate, no less. Pure democracy in action.
Yet, now in 2015, we still wait for the Commission to do its duty. We wait, as once again, the rejuvenated economy has awakened formerly idled bulldozers and Cobb’s green is rapidly bleeding red. And our elected officials stand proud to measure our economic health according to the growth in housing starts. But I wonder, are they equally proud of that same growth spreading like a cancer consuming the last of what makes a place home? Our elected servants seem to have forgotten their place.
Bad news on the doorstep first came in the winter of 2010. Times had changed, the world’s economy had faltered and the headline read: “PARKS BOND DEAD.” Seems that to issue the bonds now would require a tax increase. A small one, about $13 a year for most, but a tax increase none-the-less. “I don’t wish to burden the already burdened.” said then-Cobb Commission Chairman Sam Olens.
This was received as a practical and popular reaction to the times. Many homeowners were in trouble and, Lord knows, ambitious politicians don’t need a tax hike listed on their resumes. Greenspace preservation fell off the radar as all land development came to a halt.
Since then, things have improved. There are fewer economic threats to homeowners and more gold in government coffers. Although it had eventually become necessary to raise property taxes 16 percent, the millage rate has since been reduced. Rezonings are back in the news and Cobb is spending like old times. Particularly onerous was its unilateral decision to issue some $400 million in general obligation bonds to buy a new ball field. All that while keeping its back firmly turned to the Parks Bond, and the majority who ordered its issuance.
I always believed that in my country, such couldn’t happen. Our Founding Fathers clearly stated that ours would be a government “of” and “by” the people; no kings or dictators for us. Sure, we don’t participate in every decision, as we elect a few we trust to hold the reins of our power, but sometimes these folks simply are not sure and they hand them back to us, via a ballot question. Upon approval, they are duty bound to follow our mandate. By refusing to do this, they undermine the very essence of what makes America special. Here, their insubordination has particularly dire and long-lasting ramifications to our community’s health and future as developers are gobbling up the last precious morsels of our landscape like a Pac-Man run amok.
Certainly, government has a record of spending superfluously. It’s the reason “tax increase” is considered a four-letter word. But, the Parks Bond breaks that mold. Before its rejection, the Parks Bond elicited nothing but good news, news that lifted the people’s spirit as well as the reputation of local government. It is well past time for Cobb officials to carry out our orders and demonstrate that our Constitutional freedoms are not subjugated to the political will of our servants.
Get to work, Commissioners, history assures that your action to carry through today will only bring you credit tomorrow. And, tomorrow in this case is forever.
A legacy awaits your choice.
Paul Paulson of west Cobb is former head of the Cobb Parks Coalition.
Published in the Marietta Daily Journal on November 4, 2015. View the original link here.