Birrell is a 12-year incumbent who saw the historically Republican-dominated Board of Commissioners lose the majority to Democrats in 2020. As one of two Republicans on the board, Birrell said she has had to find ways to work together with the other commissioners.
“With the different changes and compositions, we still try to do what’s best for the county, what’s best for our constituents, to work together for the good of the county,” Birrell said.
Triebsch, a family law attorney, previously ran unsuccessfully for a state senate seat in a 2017 special election. Now, she said, she’s running to give the voters of Commission District 3 an option on the ballot.
“The voice of the common sense, compassionate Democrat, which is me, has not been heard in this area for a very, very long time,” she said. “Every single race must be contested because the voters deserve a choice.”
Birrell’s campaign has raised nearly $52,000, vastly outpacing Triebsch’s $9,000.
Some residents in the district feared their needs were being overruled by the Democratic majority, with many concerned over zoning and high-density housing and development, which contributed to the East Cobb cityhood initiative. The proposal was rejected by voters, leaving some still feeling unrepresented.
“Since it didn’t pass, and they’re still under county rule, we need to know their concerns and work with them any way we can to make the district or the county better for everyone,” Birrell said.
Triebsch, a staunch critic of East Cobb cityhood, said she was shocked when she found out about it and dismayed by the lack of transparency, and she aims to open up a dialogue.
“For those folks that wanted the city, I would need to know from them: what issue needs to be solved? What is the problem? Why is it that they wanted a city?” Triebsch said. “I think that’s all we can do, communicate and talk and find out what the issues are.”
In the wake of failed cityhood, commissioners are left to navigate the need for more housing in the county with many residents opposed to the development of apartments and townhomes.
“You must balance the business interests — the business aspect, the economic growth, the density — you must balance that with what the residents of Cobb County District 3 want,” Triebsch said.
Birrell said zoning cases are “all controversial now,” but her strategy is to get everyone in the same room to discuss the residents’ concerns, then ask developers to make adjustments as needed.
“I can always add to those conditions or stipulations based on what I’m hearing and what the community wants,” Birrell said. “So I just try to give everybody a voice … and then make the best decision for the county, for the public and for everyone involved.”
After flooding and sinkholes destroyed hundreds of East Cobb homes last September, the county developed a proposal for implementing a stormwater fee to fund the badly needed infrastructure improvements to the county’s outdated stormwater system.
The fee proposal prompted backlash from Birrell, who said she’s been vying to stop the transfer of water funds to other areas of the county’s budget for years.
“The county can’t use taxpayer money to go on private property, so it’s kind of a hard situation,” Birrell said. “I can’t justify increasing the rates in water when we’re transferring money out of water.”
The county put off a decision on whether to implement a stormwater fee when it passed the budget earlier this year, even though consultants have recommended a stormwater fee since 2005. The county has yet to find a solution and currently faces a huge backlog of stormwater work orders it has struggled to address with its lack of staffing.
“In order to come up with a resolution to these problems, we have to seek out the folks that are involved, that have the information, that have the expertise,” Triebsch said.
Jacquelyn Bettadapur, the Cobb Democratic party chair, said even with the high voter turnout she expects, the district remains a Republican stronghold in the county. She said voters will likely “resort back to partisan lines.”
“The numbers are there for a Republican win,” she said. “But the question is, do they go down the ballots? And they have to go all the way down the ballot to get to the District 3 race.”
Cobb’s Republican party chair Salleigh Grubbs did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
District 1 Commissioner Keli Gambrill, a Republican, is also on the ballot and is unopposed.
Early voting started Monday, Oct. 17 and runs through Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 8. For voting information in Cobb County, go to www.cobbcounty.org/elections.