Apr. 7—Jerica Richardson is tired of seeing a certain kind of headline in news stories.
At her first town hall as Cobb's District 2 commissioner Tuesday night, Richardson said she wants Cobb to become "a real model for leadership and solutions, that we inspire other communities because we did something interesting or different — and it worked."
"I'm tired of seeing headlines about other countries, or other states, or other cities," she continued. "We have all of the talent right here that we should be going viral."
To that end, Richardson unveiled Tuesday her priorities for the remainder of the year, a list broken into nine categories with three to four proposals apiece.
Some were run-of-the-mill political fare, such as a commitment to a series of town halls on upcoming budget and transit sales tax negotiations. Others, however, were indeed different.
Among them were:
— Piloting new "transit modalities," such as local trolleys;
— Introducing a taxpayer's receipt that shows county homeowners exactly where their tax dollars go;
— Turning county libraries into full-fledged "economic development centers";
— An "environmental justice agreement" listing "policies, procedures and investments that we can make, potentially, in order to empower people with information about their water, their soil and their air."
Behind her myriad proposals, Richardson said, were a commitment to fiscal sustainability; strategic, long-term planning; and equity, as opposed to equality.
"Equality is, everyone gets the same," she said. "Equity is what is needed to get the thing done for that particular area, because different areas have different needs. ... When coming with solutions, we have to make sure that those hurdles and things are considered as part of the solution."
But her priorities did not include a price tag and went beyond the scope of the overdue investments in staff and infrastructure commissioners have already said would make for difficult budget negotiations this year.
At a county retreat in January, department heads told commissioners that years of tightfisted budgeting had left them with outdated facilities and equipment and high turnover among employees.
The county's tax digest likely grew more than 5% in 2020, according to an estimate from the Tax Assessor's office, but it remains unclear how much additional revenue that increase will generate.
While Richardson included a salary boost for public safety in her list of priorities, she said there are other ways to incentivize retention.
"Not everything requires funding," she said. "There are some creative ways to retain talent, so we are open to exploring all of those."
Other priorities unveiled Tuesday include determining what to do with the roughly $147 million Cobb is expected to receive from the latest round of federal pandemic relief; identifying food and medical deserts; fully funding Cobb police's existing community engagement initiatives; continued support for county nonprofits; drafting a county-wide "smart communities plan"; expanding Keep Cobb Beautiful; finding affordable housing solutions that are not overly-reliant on subsidies; creating a "youth Board of Commissioners" with a "small" budget of its own; investing in cultural enclaves, such as the "Little Brazil" area in the Powers Ferry corridor; reviewing the county's nondiscrimination ordinance; expanding access to after school programs; ensuring "local ownership of zoning and growth decisions"; and more.
The town hall featured a number of guest speakers, including Cobb Board of Education member Charisse Davis, state Rep. Erick Allen, D-Smyrna, Cobb Community Foundation President Shari Martin, Sheriff Craig Owens and Cobb Police Chief Tim Cox.
Cox addressed growing violent crime in District 2.
"A lot of those groups that are committing these type of crimes in the county are not necessarily residents of the county but are coming from another area of metro Atlanta," Cox said. "As it's been said previously by one of our homicide majors, Cobb has become a destination. Just like Gwinnett County, the north part of DeKalb County, Sandy Springs, Dunwoody. We've become a destination where certain elements and individuals are coming into our communities and may not have an issue with people in our communities but (are) meeting up with other groups and that's where they're having these violent shows of force."
Cox added a disclaimer: the rise in violent crime, he said, was "not just a Cobb County issue" but a national one.
Toward the end of the town hall, Richardson addressed what she called "the elephant in the room": Major League Baseball's decision to move its All-Star game from Cobb in protest of Georgia's recently-passed elections overhaul bill. Richardson said she had been asked repeatedly what would happen to the $2.3 million the county's governing board had set aside to support the event.
"The short answer is, those funds get automatically returned," she said. "We as a board will have to determine, do we want to still make some of those investments? Because some of those investments were for the county, period. ... But there really hasn't been any spent associated with those budgeted funds."
She said she's also been asked about the economic impact of MLB's decision.
"You've seen estimates of around $100 million that we've potentially lost," she said. "You know, we're just going to have to find a new $100 million opportunity."
Richardson added that MLB's decision has, at least temporarily, put an end to her hope to establish a rubber-tire trolley in the county.
"I did see that as a great opportunity for us to get people to and from the ballpark," she said. "But there will be another day to look at those different modalities."
Attendees who signed up in advance completed an online form that asked for, among other things, the District 2 neighborhood or area in which they live.
More than 40% of attendees lived in the east Cobb area, Richardson said at the meeting's outset. Another 15% were from Smyrna, 9% were from the Johnson Ferry-Shallowford Road area, 7% were from the Powers Ferry area, 5% were from Vinings and 3% were from Cumberland.