Latest round of Cobb redistricting fight set for Tuesday night

Jan. 23—MARIETTA — Republican Commissioner Keli Gambrill told the MDJ Monday that "at this time," she plans to vote on county business at Tuesday's Cobb Board of Commissioners meeting as activists on both sides of the redistricting battle called for a heavy turnout.

The night meeting will come two weeks after Chairwoman Lisa Cupid removed Gambrill and Republican Commissioner JoAnn Birrell from the dais when they tried to abstain from voting on county business.

Birrell, asked after a work session Monday morning whether she plans to vote, said, "I'll be following our rules of procedure."

Tuesday's will be the first meeting of the board since the chaotic scene on Jan. 10, which was the latest escalation in the ongoing fight over Cobb's commission district map.

The board's Democratic majority — Cupid alongside Commissioners Jerica Richardson and Monique Sheffield — maintain the map they passed in October under the provision of "home rule" is the law of the land. That map keeps Richardson within the boundaries of her District 2 seat.

But Gambrill and Birrell, along with most Republicans, say that map is wholly unconstitutional (Attorney General Chris Carr said this month the effort "was inappropriate and not legally binding"). They insist the board remains governed by the map passed by the General Assembly last year, which drew Richardson out of her seat.

At Monday's work session, the issue initially wasn't raised as all five commission members turned up for work. But Birrell and Gambrill raised issues with the minutes of the meeting two weeks ago. Prior to the two commissioners' dismissal from the dais at that meeting, the board went into an extended executive (closed-door) session outside of the meeting room.

The draft minutes of that Jan. 10 meeting reflect all five board members voting in favor of Cupid's motion to enter executive session. But the two Republicans say that never happened. Gambrill said she wasn't even at the dais when the vote was held.

"If there was a vote called, I was not allowed to vote because I was talking to my administrative assistant," she said.

Birrell likewise told the MDJ she didn't vote on the motion, adding the minutes also didn't reflect "Commissioner Gambrill and I being removed and asked to be escorted off the dais."

The exchange was not captured on the county's live stream of the meeting, but County Clerk Pam Mabry said the account was accurate based on an audio recording of the proceedings.

Added County Attorney Bill Rowling, "We have to rely on what the clerk remembered the meeting was, and what occurred. If you're (in) disagreement with it, you don't have to vote in favor of it."

Cupid, for her part, said Monday's debate was beyond the scope of the work session.

"If there's a question regarding the substance of something else that occurred, I do not want to hold anybody else here in this meeting for that discussion, which can easily happen after today's meeting occurs," she said. "And a path forward — again, if you don't agree with the minutes ... you do not have to vote in support of them."

Activist groups on both sides of the political spectrum, meanwhile, are expected to make a strong showing Tuesday.

For Which It Stance, a political group formed last year to bolster Richardson's efforts to stay in office, on Friday asked for supporters to "fill the room" Tuesday night, a call that was echoed by the Cobb Democratic Party.

"We are gathered here to encourage them to get back to work," Mindy Seger, head of For Which It Stance, said at a press conference Monday outside the county government offices.

Across the aisle, the Cobb County Republican Party also encouraged its supporters to "show up and defend the Georgia Constitution."

The board's standoff aside, both sides agree the home rule issue is likely to be resolved in the courts. A lawsuit from east Cobb activist Larry Savage challenging the effort was filed in December, but later withdrawn; a similar suit is expected to be refiled.