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Byrne Accuses Lee Campaign of 'Imploding'

The final Cobb Commission Chairman candidates forum before the July 31 primary featured some heated sparring between the likely frontrunners.

The usual topics of taxes, transportation and immigration didn't dominate the final debate on Wednesday featuring the four candidates for Cobb Commission Chairman. 

With just six days remaining before Tuesday's Republican primary, the most explosive rhetoric centered on allegations by incumbent chairman Tim Lee that his chief opponent, former chairman Bill Byrne, made disparaging remarks about Cobb County when attempting to qualify to run for the Polk County Commission in 2008. 

Lee's campaign mailed out a flyer to Republican voters over the weekend quoting Byrne's testimony before the Polk County Board of Elections, which was examining his residency claims: 

"The last thing I wanted to do is live in Cobb County. I want to make damn sure Cobb County doesn't move to Polk County. I live in Polk, I love this county and want to make sure that we preserve and protect this quality of life, and make sure Cobb County doesn't move here."

Byrne purchased land in 1998 for a horse farm and home in rural Polk County, located west of Paulding County on the Alabama border. But he was ultimately disqualifed from the commission race for not being a legal resident. 

"When he said that, I got upset that he would say that about my county," Lee said before a gathering of several dozen citizens at the Cobb County Republican Party headquarters in Marietta. "I think the people of Cobb County need to know how he truly feels about Cobb County."

Byrne, Cobb's chairman from 1992-2002, claimed the charges reflect a campaign by Lee that is "imploding" and trailing in the polls.

"This is what's called an old-fashioned slick sheet," said Byrne, holding up Lee's flyer. "It comes from programs, projects and candidates who are losing ground, losing support and losing respect. Either you have it or you don't. This campaign [Lee's] does not."

Byrne said Lee took his remarks to the Polk County Board of Elections out of context. He said he was asked if he would "bring Cobb County's success to Polk," and answered that "you cannot duplicate what Cobb County did in Polk County because [both counties] are two different things."

Lee denied to Patch after the debate that his campaign is in trouble. "Our campaign is strong, it's well-funded and it's well-designed. What I've been told is that we're leading."

During most of the campaign, Byrne and fellow challengers Mike Boyce and Larry Savage have hammered Lee for supporting a property tax millage rate increase in 2011. Lee had been publicly defending that vote in previous campaign appearances, but now touts how Cobb has the lowest property tax rates in metro Atlanta and that county government is smaller than when he took office in 2010.

Savage and Boyce are having a squabble of their own. The Marietta Daily Journal reported Thursday that Savage is questioning the military record of Boyce, a retired Marine officer, and his claims of being a budget expert.

Toward the end of the debate, Byrne was asked if he might modify his combative management style if he returned to his old job, prompting chuckles from campaign supporters in attendance. 

"If you think I'm going to be warm and fuzzy, you are sadly mistaken," he said.

Lee used the occasion to make another contrast between himself and his chief rival. "I don't need to be bombastic and shut doors and slam doors to be effective," he said. "I work to build consensus and move issues forward, to make sure we provide the best value for our citizens."

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