MARIETTA — With a little more than two months remaining before county voters decide whether to extend a 1 percent special purpose local option sales tax, Commissioner Lisa Cupid has decided to remove anti-SPLOST activist Lance Lamberton from the SPLOST Oversight Committee.
Lamberton of Austell is the chairman of the Cobb Taxpayers Association, an organization with the stated goals of reducing government spending and opposing increases in taxes. The group has come out against the 2016 SPLOST, just as it did for the 2005 and 2011 SPLOSTs.
The six-year, 1 percent sales tax is expected to collect $750 million over its lifetime and will be on the ballot Nov. 4, when voters will decide whether to pass it.
Cupid said Lamberton’s active role opposing the SPLOST “runs counter” to his role on the committee overseeing the program. She said she originally appointed Lamberton because he provided an alternate perspective, which she thought would be useful for the committee, but his vocal opposition to the 2016 SPLOST led her to remove him.
“To take such an active role, to be publicly advocating against, it goes beyond having that balance in view,” she said.
Cupid said Cobb Chairman Tim Lee, who vocally opposed Cupid appointing Lamberton in June 2013, showed her an article a few months ago describing Lamberton’s opposition to the 2016 SPLOST. However, Cupid said the article still did not sway her views on Lamberton’s position on the committee.
“But it’s been the level of activity that has come to my attention after that (article) that’s made me concerned that, again, having a balance of perspective is one thing, but actively advocating (against) something that you’re being entrusted to oversee is on a whole other level,” Cupid said. “And it does undermine his role on the board.”
Cupid said she has someone in mind to replace Lamberton, but she hasn’t spoken with that person yet. She said she hopes to have an appointment to announce by November.
Lamberton believes Cupid’s pro-SPLOST stance is the driving force behind his removal.
Commissioners approved calling for a SPLOST referendum in July by a vote of 4-1, with Bob Ott opposed.
“Lisa is an independent person,” Lamberton said. “It’s one of the things I like and respect about her. Her appointment of me, her voting against the MOU for the Braves shows me that she is not that easily swayed by other commissioners. So, I have to question her real reason for why I’m being removed. And it’s my opinion that it’s because of her vehement support for the SPLOST, and that this is, in essence, political retaliation.”
Lamberton said he believes the county relies too heavily on the SPLOST and questions the way the project list is structured.
There are two tiers on the list; tier one projects are funded first, and if there is revenue remaining after all those projects are fully funded, tier two projects will be addressed. Lamberton says there is nothing in state law allowing for the tier system.
“I’m of the view that the SPLOST should be — you know, if you say you’re going to raise a certain amount of money for the projects, then once you hit that mark and you’ve raised the money, then the collections should stop at that point,” Lamberton said. “But what they’ve done is they’ve built a tier two, so once they hit that point, then they can continue to spend money until the time runs out of the SPLOST.”
Lamberton believes his presence on the committee and his questions regarding the tier system “probably (created) some discomfort on the part of some people,” which led to his removal.
“I think it sets a very bad precedent and it … is an attempt to stifle dissent,” he said.
Cupid denied Lamberton’s accusation, saying no one benefits politically from Lamberton’s removal from the committee.
“It is my thought that in our democracy, contribution of all views can help create sound policy,” Cupid said. “I respected Lance’s voice at the table, but also believe that having a seat at the table entails a certain responsibility to not actively work against the cause of why you are seated there in the first place.”
In a Friday email to Lamberton, Cupid said his vocal opposition to the 2016 SPLOST “has posed some challenges that undermine your ability to be regarded as an effective advocate for the district” on the committee.
The purpose of the committee is to ensure the county uses the funds collected from the tax spelled out on the project list approved by voters. The committee meets every other month, and its meetings are open to the public. Its next meeting is Nov. 20.
Each member of the Cobb Board of Commissioners is entitled to appoint three members to the SPLOST Oversight Committee without a vote from the other commissioners, and they can remove their appointees at regularly called commission meetings, according to Robert Quigley, county spokesman.
Lee opposed Lamberton’s appointment in June of last year, saying at the time he respects Cupid “for her opinion, and my hopes are that it all works well and that I’m proven wrong. That is my ultimate hope.”
Lee said at the time his opposition to Lamberton serving on the SPLOST committee is the same reason he opposed anti-illegal immigration activist D.A. King serving on the committee formed to find best practices for ensuring the county doesn’t hire immigrants in the country illegally.
“To put someone in there that might be biased one way or the other creates a distraction that takes the focus away from the true work. And we’ve had how many years of successful oversight representation and review by the citizen committees?” Lee said last year.
“I don’t believe it would be any different if (Lamberton) were on it. I just think the focus would go away from what their primary responsibilities are to what (Lamberton thinks) is occurring, and I just don’t think that’s the way to go.”
Calls made to Lee were not returned by press time, although he did provide a brief statement on Lamberton’s removal.
“We are grateful for his service,” Lee’s statement reads.
Members of the SPLOST oversight committee:
♦ Chairman Tim Lee: Jay Cunningham, Scott Johnson, Dania Aponte
♦ Commissioner Helen Goreham: Marline Elkins, John M. Brown, John Pape
♦ Commissioner Bob Ott: Alice Summerour, Bill Carver, Kes Stadler
♦ Commissioner JoAnn Birrell: JoEllen Smith, Frank Wiggington, Charles Casto
♦ Commissioner Lisa Cupid: Lance Lamberton, Roger Sandbothe, Kenneth Jones