MARIETTA — In 1984, Republican Earl Smith was elected chairman of the Cobb Board of Commissioners. Joined by two Republican commissioners, the GOP saw its first-ever majority on the county’s governing board that year.
Almost 40 years later, the pendulum has swung back to the other side: on Friday, Republican Fitz Johnson acknowledged outstanding ballots were unlikely to make up his 1,200 vote deficit against Democrat Jerica Richardson in the race for Cobb’s District 2 commission seat, which covers east Cobb, Vinings and parts of Smyrna.
Richardson’s victory, along with those of Democrats Lisa Cupid and Monique Sheffield, give the party its first majority on the board since Smith replaced visionary Democratic Chairman Ernest Barrett in the 1980s.
Their victory also means all five members of the board will be women and three will be Black come January.
Cupid, who was elected the first Democrat chair since Barrett, is also the first woman and the first African American to lead Cobb’s governing board after ousting Republican Chairman Mike Boyce on Tuesday.
With Cupid, Sheffield and Richardson on the board, that leaves Republicans in the minority with just two seats held by commissioners JoAnn Birrell, of north Cobb, and Keli Gambrill, of west Cobb.
“We made history across Cobb County, and that is something to marvel at,” Richardson told the MDJ.
Gambrill said she saw it cutting both ways.
“It’s historical in the fact that yes, an all-woman board is going to be leading the county forward. However, the scrutiny could be just as high.”
While the outcome of Tuesday’s election may have changed the board’s membership, it has not changed the board’s purpose, Gambrill said: “Setting the policy and financial direction of the county.”
Cobb GOP Chair Jason Shepherd said Cobb residents would be keeping a close eye on how the board addresses those very things.
“One of the things that have helped us be the lowest-taxed county in the metro area is simply the fact that we’ve had good Republican control that has spent taxpayer dollars wisely, eliminated waste, and through that (was) able to keep taxes low and still accomplish everything county government needs to accomplish. With Democratic government, there’s going to be changes.”
Cupid said the concern was unfounded.
“Our top priority is to serve the citizens of Cobb County as effectively and as efficiently as possible,” she told the MDJ.
District 4 Commissioner-elect Monique Sheffield said the board’s decision making won’t be driven by partisanship.
“Although I identify as a Democrat, that will not be the basis of the decisions that I make,” she said. “When we make decisions on where a park is going to be, nobody’s checking the ‘D’ or the ‘R’ in the column; it’s like, ’Is this the best use of land for this particular community?’ So, policy-wise, obviously things will change, but I don’t think that decisions are made based on (party).”
And Cupid, pointing to the existing board — of which she is the lone Democrat — said there has been many a disagreement in her nine years of service.
The winners of Tuesday’s races each had different priorities as members of the board.
In addition to efficient and effective governance, Cupid said she wanted to foster a more collaborative spirit on the board.
Sheffield said her constituents were most interested in development and access to “live, work, play developments, restaurants, parks, family activities and things of that nature.”
Richardson rattled off several issues that are top of mind for her district’s residents: transportation, taxes, east Cobb cityhood, annexation of neighboring land by the city of Smyrna, economic development and health concerns surrounding the Sterigenics plant.
Speaking on Thursday, Birrell acknowledged that Richardson was the likely winner of her race.
“Whatever the outcome, I will be a team player,” Birrell said. “We have to work together for the good of the county.”
Gambrill said that county policy and code would dictate how commissioners are to consider certain proposals.
“The bigger question becomes, are we going to continue to follow policy or will we begin rewriting policy?” she said. “And if you’re going to be rewriting policy, then the public, meaning everyone in Cobb County, will have a right to input.”